Filtering the Filter Words

by Leigh Holland

As writers, we want to reach out and touch our readers in a memorable way. Most importantly, we want to be invisible to them while they immerse themselves in the world we created for them to enjoy.  One of the best ways for us to disappear is to put nothing between the reader and the experiences presented in the book. There are certain words, when used in certain ways, that can dampen the experience and filter it, erecting a barrier to a more immersive reading experience. We call these words “Filters”.

2000px-Filter.svgConsider these two samples. Neither of them is wrong, but one of them is stronger.


Andrew touched the bump on his head where Lily’s cell phone had struck him. He realized suddenly that Lily might be mad. Andrew wondered what he did to upset her. He felt like he couldn’t do anything right. He heard Lily tell him it was over between them. Andrew thought he had lost Lily forever. He decided to leave her wealthy parent’s mansion and never return.


Ouch! Andrew’s head ached. Lily’s cell phone struck true- her aim was always perfect when she was angry. What had he done wrong this time? Lily said, “It’s over between us, Andrew.” Despairing, Andrew departed Lily’s ancestral mansion, never to return.


Both samples are grammatically correct and essentially convey the same information. However, the second sample does so in a way that makes the experience of the characters more immediate for the reader. And yes, Filter Words should always be used when they are essential to conveying the intended meaning. Where they are not necessary to convey meaning, we should consider whether they present a barrier, and if so, how can we remove the barrier but retain the meaning?

Words that present barriers include (according to Pub Crawl):

To See

To Hear

To Think

To Watch

To Wonder

To Realize

To Touch

To Look

To Feel (Feel Like)


To Decide

To Sound (Sound Like)

To Notice

To Note

To Experience

To Be Able To



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