Writers can use filter words to manipulate point of view. 

Filter words “tell” readers what a character is experiencing, often via their senses. Examples include:

  • I see . . . 
  • He hears . . . 
  • She smells . . .
  • They feel . . . 

Manipulate Distance

Descriptions like this create distance between the narrator and the reader. The filter words dilute the sensory experience.

If you’re writing with an omniscient third-person point of view (the all-knowing narrator), using filter words is a great way to keep the readers at a distance. You’ll find lots of examples of this point of view in classic literature.

But if you’re writing from a closer perspective, say first-person point of view (I am the narrator) or third-person limited point of view (the readers closely follows the narrative from the character’s perspective), then filter words will add distance you don’t want. The reader wants to be as close to the action as possible; they want to zoom in.

When you write without those filter words, it makes a stronger impact on the reader. You’re “showing” them what is happening.

Let’s look at a few examples.

With filters: I see the sun rising, and I feel its heat warming my skin.

Without filters: The sun rises, and its heat warms my skin.

With filters: She smells rancid garbage, which makes her gag, when she enters the abandoned house.

Without filters: The stench of rancid garbage makes her gag when she enters the abandoned house.

With filters: He hears the thumping bass of the rap song long before the car pulls to a stop beside him.

Without filters: The thumping bass of the rap song pounds out a rhythm long before the car pulls to a stop beside him.

Other Filter Words

Other filter words that can sneak into your writing, especially during internal dialogue and narrative text, are I remember, I think, I know, and I realize. 

Once you’re aware of filter words, you’re able to evaluate your use of them. Do they work in the scene to keep the reader at a distance, or do you want to bring the reader closer? 

Filter Word Searches in Your Manuscript

When revising, use the global search feature in Microsoft Word to make the hunt easier.

  1. Hit Control + F to pull up the search box.
  2. Type in one filter word you’re scanning for: look, smell, feel, etc.
  3. A list will appear under the search bar of every instance the word appears in the manuscript.
  4. Evaluate each example and decide if you want to revise it.
  5. Repeat with a different filter word. 

Copyright Ayers Edits 2021