Today we’re going to be talking about filter words and passive voice with Mr Elliott Elephant over on the left. These are two of the things I am worst at, both in first drafts and revisions. It usually takes the amazing eyes of my critique partners to find them all.
Filter words seem pretty self-explanatory to begin with – they’re words that basically act like a filter, distancing the reader from the story. Filter words include things like “saw,” “heard,” “feel,” “wonder” and “realise.” They’re the most common ones, anyway. It’s so easy to use them when you’re writing, because it just feels natural to include them. To demonstrate some, I’m going to go to my WIP (which is a first draft at this stage) and write down the first sentences with filter words that I come across. It’s probably going to be the first page, let me tell you.
Okay, I was wrong. There’s a filter word IN MY FIRST SENTENCE (told you I was bad).
With filter word: “I notice a lot of things in the time it takes for my date to arrive.”
Sometimes it can be hard to rephrase these. I think I’ll use something like this: “In the time it takes for my date to arrive, the butter on the complimentary garlic bread melts.” This brings the next sentence into the first and avoids filter words. Not perfect, but better than the first.
Example number two: “He looks kind of my age.” This is a double no-no because I used “kind of,” which is one of the phrases I DRASTICALLY overuse. But we’re not talking about overused words. We’re talking about filter words, and “looks” is one of them. Instead, it can just be “He’s about my age.”
In this WIP of mine, senses are very important since one MC is blind, and one is deaf. But even so, filter words take you out of the story, and can almost always be substituted. Especially when you’re using first person, everything is from their point of view anyway, so you don’t need to use “I saw” or “I heard.”
The exception is if the sense is contradictory to what you would assume. For example, “I heard the smile in her voice.” Or something similarly pretentious.
Passive voice is another thing I use too much. It can also be hard to identify, as well as to rearrange. A good trick is to add “by zombies” after the verb in the sentence. If “by zombies” makes sense in the sentence, it’s probably passive voice.
For example: “Mr Elliott Elephant was taught about passive voice.”
This gets changed to “Mr Elliott Elephant was taught by zombies.” And obviously we don’t want Mr Elliott Elephant to get taught by zombies, so it should probably be changed to “Emily taught Mr Elliott Elephant about passive voice.” It makes things MUCH clearer.
I really need to stop saying Mr Elliott Elephant.
I’ve grouped passive voice and filter words together because they both distance the reader from the story – and that’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to pull them deeper and deeper, until they drown…
In first drafts, you should just concentrate on getting the words out. If you remember not to use filter words and passive voice, that’s fantastic, but it’s not the priority. Those sneaky little things can always get cut later.