Sometimes distance is good. When I've spent all day cooking and my husband stops off on the way home for fast food, a little distance is more beneficial than argument. But when, as writers, we allow distance between our characters and our reader, that’s not good.
Last week during my blog travels, I found this wonderful post by Cynthia Chapman Willis about filter words. Filter words are words that filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view. They tell instead of letting the reader experience. The timing of finding that post was perfect. You see, one of the critiques that I received on my current WIP pointed out an embarrassing number of uses of the word “feel.” The thing about filter words is that I know about them, or some of them, anyway. See, hear, and look tend to jump out at me. After reading Cynthia’s post I discovered that there are many more. And they've found their way into my writing.
I made a list of these culprits on a Post-It note and stuck it to the side of my computer monitor. Then I went through my manuscript, and using the find and highlight features in MS Word, I used different colors to mark every use of the words see, hear, feel, think, realize, watch, look, seem, know, and sound. (I just discovered that touch, wonder, can, decide, notice, and experience are part of the group as well. I guess I know what I’ll be doing this week.)
When I was done, my manuscript looked more like a child's board game than a YA story. Of course, not every use of these words is taboo; at times a little distance is needed, and sometimes the particular word choice may be right for the voice of the story. As I go through and rework things, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my story is being made stronger, I’m tightening the gap between my characters and future readers. My pages are starting to look less like an art lesson and more like interesting reading. And hopefully, my heightened awareness for filter words will make me a better writer.
Is there one (or more) of these words that you struggle to weed from your own writing?