Sunday, June 3, 2012

Distance




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?

64 comments:

  1. Your color visual made me *see* the point. Thoughtful as usual, Ruth.

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    1. Glad if this was useful, Mirka. I only wish I hadn't seen the point quite so vividly in my own manuscript ;)

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  2. What a great post, Ruth. I need to try this technique!

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    1. When I find something helpful, I like to spread the word =)

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  3. Loved Cynthia's post. I plead guilty to filter words. Your Candyland analogy cracked me up. I'm going to use your highlighting strategy - great idea.

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    1. The thing is, they really are easy fixes once you find them. Good luck!

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  4. 'Look' & 'think' are definitely the ones for me. Recently, I'm using a lot of 'seem,' too. Oh dear. Highlighting is a great though scary technique. I'll have to remember to use this when my draft is done.

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    1. Use the brightest, cheeriest colors for the highlighting. It's less scary that way ;)

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  5. These words set off alarms in my head anytime I use them. Thankfully I learned this lesson from my first critique partner during the first year I started writing. Even with that, I still catch them trying to sneak in sometimes. ^_^

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    1. They're definitely sneaky little words =)

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  6. I cut 10 pages from a client's manuscript by cutting these words. They aren't needed, and the writing is so much more engaging without them. Great post!

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    1. Once you start looking for them, they ARE easy to cut.

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  7. Great list of words to look for. I used the word "knew" a lot. He/she knew. It was really repetitive, luckily I noticed and cut them all out.

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    1. I guess the fact that they're easy to cut just goes to prove how superfluous they are.

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  8. Ohhh, very useful for post for today! I'm nearing the end of a revision, and then know I'll need to do some massive cuts to the text. I've been thinking about going through and looking for these exact types of words. Thanks for doing some of my homework for me! ;)

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    1. Glad you found the list helpful, Anne. Good luck with those revisions!

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  9. Great post, Ruth, and I especially love the visual image I get from your "Candyland" analogy. I like the idea of color highlighting key filter words as an aid to revising.

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    1. I'm finding the highlighting very effective. And it's rewarding every time you make a fix and get to remove the highlighting ;)

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  10. Great post, Ruth. I think I'll copy your list. Is there something wrong with Candyland? :D

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    1. Glad the list was helpful, Victoria. I have nothing against Candyland as a way to pass time with my nieces and nephews, however, splattered all over my MS like that, I could do without it ;)

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  11. Seem is a big one for me in my wip! Sometimes I can tell what words I overuse simply from my blog comments--they are apparently my fallback words! :)

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    1. Oh no, now I have to start analyzing my blog comments =/

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  12. Great list! I'm curious to search and find my manuscript and see what turns up.

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    1. I hope you find the highlighting as helpful as I have!

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  13. What a great idea to find and color everything like that. I will give it a try... if I ever get past page 32, where i seem to have been stuck for about a year :)

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    1. Oh no! A year, Susanna? Well, you just never know when the wheels will start turning again. Good luck with it!

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  14. Those words do creep in. I always wonder why I thought they were necessary in the early drafts. I do keep a few and for the reason you suggested. I loved your colorful presentation. Made great sense!

    Thanks for joining in my launch. I'll be in touch once I'm organized--probably before! :-)

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    1. We probably use them a lot in real life so they wind up in our drafts. Glad you liked the post.

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  15. I love editing at this level ... and you can literally see how these incremental changes ramp up the story. This is the stage I'm at right now with my wip, and sometimes it's agonizingly slow because you question every sentence and word, whether it belongs or not. Enjoy, enjoy this phase.

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    1. I do enjoy the editing, as well, Vijaya. Hope yours is going well.

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  16. Ruth, very helpful visual! 'Think' and 'seem' are traps for me. Though I think these words are a little easier to spot in a picture book! ;)

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    1. With PB word counts so tight, there's no room to waste on "extra" words, is there?!

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  17. I read that same post by Cynthia, and wow, does it hit home. Each of the words you listed are on a LONG list of my crutch words. Once I've gone through the MS a couple of times, I do a pass just for this sort of thing. A few stay, but most go bye-bye :)

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    1. I was amazed how many times I'd gone through this MS without noticing them. YIKES. Really makes me appreciate my critique group.

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  18. Aww, I'm so thrilled my post was helpful! Thank you for the shout-out and link!
    These words are sneaky buggers and could turn many a manuscript into a Candy Land board (great analogy!).

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  19. Wonderful post! The reminder to write tight can never get old.
    Blessings
    Dotti :)

    New friend from Ink Dots, Australia.

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  20. I must get rid of unnecessary use of the word, "that" and "very"...elementary!

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    1. Oh yes, I remember one time being given a list of "garbage words" to be wary of. "That" and "very" were among them.

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  21. Wow, I had no idea that there were that many filter words! Great post :)

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    1. I know, I know, so many to be on the lookout for.

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  22. I'm getting better at weeding out these words.

    I also found Cynthia's post helpful.

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    1. I guess we just need to keep re-reminding ourselves until we use them less and less.

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  23. Awwwwwwesome post, Ruth! I loved this. We totally need these reminders---and it's all about training ourselves so these little bad habits are out of our system for good! And it's easy to forget that some of those words do put distance between our characters and the reader :D

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    1. Glad you found it helpful, Morgan. I'm always grateful for reminders ;)

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  24. The word "So" and "Like". I start so many sentances with SO and use the work LIKE as a verb. Yeesh its annoying even when I am trying not to do it.

    Loved this post Ruth. Now I have more words to hunt for. This is great.
    ctny

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    1. Glad this was helpful to you, Courtney.

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  25. It was a great post. I now have a list of words to FIND in my ms. It's amazing what happens when you delete the word or rewrite the sentence. :)

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    1. I agree, Stina. Most times it's an instant improvement.

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  26. Yes, I have caught myself using filter words, especially in 1st person. But I didn't realize there were so many or that there was a technical term for them. Thanks for the helpful post. I'm copying all the filter words for future reference.

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    1. I think you're right, Sara. The MS I'm working on is told in first person and I think that has a lot to do with it. Glad you found the post helpful.

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  27. What an informative post -- and a great reminder. I want to use the word feel occasionally, but in writing PB, we are taught to think in juicy action verbs. But, still I slip on occasion.

    Thank you for making so many lovely comments on my blog. I've been gone for more than two weeks and I am trying to catch up.

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    1. I like how you put it, Pat - "juicy action verbs."

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  28. This is great stuff, Ruth! Never thought about it in these terms exactly. Now to look at the WIP in this light...Thanks for the food for thought! :)

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    1. You're very welcome, Karen. Glad you found it useful.

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  29. I JUST realize how I'm JUST always deleting the word JUST, JUST because it doesn't deliver on the page JUST what it does in my mind.

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    1. Just is a tough one. I know what you mean!

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  30. When the Candy Land picture came along, I cracked up. I think my "favorite" in this list might be "knew."

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  31. Ruth, this is important stuff for those of us who write nonfiction too. In food writing we must avoid overused words like delicious and yummy. In wedding writing (another of my specialties) we must be on guard against completely worn-out words like elegant. Of course, one needn't be so careful in blogging as in magazine writing. I only hope my food blog isn't the ruin of me as a writer!

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    1. Oooo, I'd never thought of this, Jean. I'll bet it's quite difficult to avoid those words.

      I agree about not needing to be so careful in blogging. It takes so much time as it is, if we were too careful we'd never get anything else done!

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  32. Great post! I'm getting better at avoiding those words, but I still get tempted to use them on occasion. LOL
    Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

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  33. They are deviously tempting, aren't they ;)

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