Then came the nagging doubt. The internet research. The realization that, oh, ly-adverbs are bloodsucking prose-leeches that should be eradicated without mercy.
I feel like that again today. One moment, I was skimming my way through Write About Now and Solvang Sherrie threw out the phrase "filter words," which struck me as unusual, so I Googled it.
The next moment, I'd discovered a whole new realm of pain.
See, filter words are bad. They're sneaky. They feel like including POV but in fact, they distance readers from the story. And I'm pretty sure that I'm guilty.
Susan Dennard at Let The Words Flow said,
(without filter phrase)
She has a ton of other great examples, including this list of filter words to watch out for:
You can read her full post here.
I've spent the last few days going through a fresh draft of Mirrorpass doing a continuity read+line edit, and one thing I started writing down were phrases or words I overused. So far on my list I have the overuse of "and" in descriptive passages. The use of "all at once." The use of "slowly" at the beginning of sentences. Now, I'm having nightmares of what my list would look like if I went through searching for filter words--eep!
My writer friends, this is the moment to take a deep breath.
To realize we're professionals and that we can handle this. We got over ly-adverbs and passive phrasing, after all. We can do this.
What I'm left with now is, A: Why haven't I ever heard of these before? And B: How bad of a problem is it? Is this an advanced fiction thing, that you learn about as you mature; is it a Writing 101 principle that I've missed this whole time?
My thought is it's an advanced fiction thing. Also, taking a closer look, "filter words" seem like a mix between passive writing, and telling versus showing. Removing the filter phrase brings us from the passive POV to an active description. We're not being told that the POV sees, or feels, or decides; we're shown the POV seeing, feeling, deciding.
This gives me a little hope. Maybe this is just a new term for the evil I've always known existed. Maybe, like a virus that has evolved around the vaccines in place, this form of passive telling is just another weakness that writers can subconsciously develop. If so, fixing it just means doing what I've always done--look for signal phrases. Cut ruthlessly. Learn to write with active prose. Learn to identify when filter words should stay, instead of go.
Here are two more helpful posts on the topic:
Why Editors Reject Manuscripts -- they actually talk about this under "passive voice," and within that section they call it "a filter."
So yes. I've been blindsided. Now that I've discovered the big secret of the universe, I want you guys to 'fess up. Did you know about filter words? Why didn't you tell me? What do you think about them, now that I've been so gracious as to ruin the day by informing you?
Truly and always,