Sharpen your prose by ditching ‘filter words’

Words like see, hear and feel put distance between readers and the action you’re describing.

But there is another class of filter words that writers need to be alert for: those that distance the reader from the action.

Words like see, hear, feel, or sound can diminish the urgency of what one is describing by calling attention to watcher, rather than the event being described. Likewise, observe lends your writing the feel of a police press release, which frequently use it like this: “Officers observed that he was not wearing any pants at the moment they approached the vehicle.”

The novelist John Gardner warned against “the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness.”

A better snake fight

He explains, “The amateur writes, ‘Turning, she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks.’ Compare: ‘She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting.'”

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.