"Patch of Dirt:" Filtering
I've found this article on filtering to be one of the best about how to make your writing more forceful.
Filtering "Filtering" is when the writer forces us to "look at rather than through" the point-of-view character's eyes. So says Janet Burroway, author of eight novels and several books on creative writing, one of which is the most widely used text on the craft of writing fiction in the entire country.
Filtering can inadvertently hold the reader at a distance, especially when working in a close I st or 3rd-person point-of-view, and keeps the reader from sinking comfortably into the fictional dream. One moment the reader is hunched over the POV character's shoulder, observing the world as if he is that character; seeing only what the character sees. But stumble across a "filtered observation" and suddenly the reader finds himself looking at the character instead of with the character -- watching the character as the character watches something else.
In his book, The Art of Fiction. John Gardner refers to this as "the failure to run straight at an image; that is, the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness. The amateur writes: 'Turning, she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks.' Compare: 'She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting.' Generally speaking=though no laws are absolute in fiction=vividness urges that almost every occurrence of such phrases as "she noticed" and "she saw" be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen."
The first time I read that paragraph by John Gardner I was totally confused. But luckily there was Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction. A Guide to Narrative Craft. to help clear up the confusion:
The filter is a common fault and often difficult to recognize=although once the principle is grasped, cutting away filters is an easy means to more vivid writing. As a fiction writer you will often be working through "some observing consciousness. 11 Yet when you step back and ask readers to observe the observer=to look at rather than through the character--you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene" Here, for example, is a student passage quite competent except for the filtering:
Mrs. Blair made her way to the chair by the window and sank gratefully into it. She looked out the window and there across the street, she saw the ivory BMW parked in front of the fire plug once more. It seemed to her, though, that something was wrong with it She noticed that it was listing slightly toward the back and side, and then saw that the back rim was resting almost on the asphalt. Remove the filters from this paragraph and we are allowed to stay in Mrs. Blair's consciousness, watching with her eyes, sharing understanding as it unfolds for her:
Mrs. Blair made her way to the chair by the window and sank gratefully into it Across the street the ivory BMW was parked in front of the fire plug again. Something was wrong with it, though. it was listing toward the back and side, the back rim resting almost on the asphalt.
A similar filtering occurs when the writer chooses to begin a flashback and mistakenly supposes that the reader is not clever enough to follow this technique , without a guiding transition:
Mrs. Blair thought back to the time that she and Henry had owned an ivory car, though it had been a Chevy. She remembered clearly that it had a hood shaped like a sugar scoop, and chrome bumpers that stuck out a foot front and back. And there was that funny time, she recalled. when Henry had to change the flat tire on Aligator Alley, and she'd thought the alligators would come up out of the swamp.
Just as the present scene win be more present to the reader without a filter; so we will be taken more thoroughly back to the time of the memory without a filter:
She and Henry had owned an ivory car once, though it had been a Chevy, with a hood shaped like a sugar scoop, and chrome bumpers that stuck out a foot front and back, And there was that funny time Henry had to change the flat tire on Aligator Alley, and she'd thought the aligators would come up out of the swamp.
Observe that the pace of the reading is improved. by the removal of the filters--at least partly, literally, because one or two lines of type have been removed. As Gardner says, no laws are absolute in fiction, but you may be surprised how much tighter, more in-the-moment, and vivid your writing becomes when you remove the filters. Give the exercise below a shot and see if removing the filters doesn't improve the vividness and pace of your work-in-progress. EXERCISE: Filtering
Print out a few pages of your current Rewrite the passages without using the Project. Read through the piece carefully, filters. You might be surprised how much Highlighting obvious or suspected filters. more in-the-moment and vivid the passage becomes for the reader.
Some common filters to look for:
he noticed… he saw…. he felt…. she tasted she heard she remembered he recalled…. she thought back to… she looked… it seemed to her…
From: Scribophile's Writing Academy "Introduction to Filtering" by Michael. R. Emmert