Be Brave! Be Yourself! Be Awesome!
Mmmm, coffee! That delicious drink that fuels our mad dash at the keyboard in an attempt to write the novel brewing inside us. What would we do without it? And filters make that possible. Whisking out all those gritty, bitter grounds that would ruin that delectable smooth concoction. But surprisingly enough, we need those grounds in our writing.
Wait, did I just compare your writing to coffee grounds? This comparison is getting a little off track, but the point is, you don’t want bland smoothness in your writing. You want the grit and the chunks and the texture that makes it come alive. Maybe not so much in coffee, but in writing? Yes!
So what are these filters that weaken our writing, making it easy to slip through the minds of our readers, leaving no impression and just gliding off into nothingness? Well, I had no idea they existed until I decided to do a little research into editing techniques. And this is what I found:
Basically, filter words are anything that weakens the impact of your writing and/or pulls the reader farther away from the action. And I don’t want to sound like I’m some expert here. Far from it. I’m going to share some fantastic websites that helped me better understand this topic, and maybe try to paraphrase for you.
Here is a list of blog articles that helped me to see where I was going wrong with my writing:
10 Words to Cut from Your Writing on Entrepreneur.com Gives a list of 10 unnecessary words to cut to tighten your prose.
Three Words You Should Eliminate From Your Writing on WriteToDone.com This adds one more word to the list in the previous blog post, but it’s still a good read to reinforce why we can skip these words.
8 Words to Seek and Destroy in Your Writing on LitReactor.com See the pattern here? Cut. Cut. Cut.
Are These Filter Words Weakening Your Fiction? on WriteItSideways.com This great post explains filter words and links to several more articles that can help, as well as listing a few more words to add to that growing list of filters.
Ten Words to Avoid When Writing on FreelanceWriting.com And a few more to add to the growing pile. Each article reiterates some of the tried and true favorites and adds one or two more.
Filter Words on PublishingCrawl.com Gives some great examples to help you see where you can eliminate words that distance your reader from what is happening.
Ten Quick Fixes to Improve Your Fiction Now on AbsoluteWrite.com/novels
And when you’re done with those, just Google some more. There are plenty of blog posts and articles to help on this subject. Here is a compiled list of all the words highlighted in the aforementioned articles, along with a few I’ve found to be troublesome myself, and in no particular order:
Just to give you an idea, I cut more than 200 words by eliminating the word “that”. Obviously not all of them. There are instances where it was needed, but there were 200 where it was not. I changed a lot of “I’ve got” and “you’ve got” to “I have” and “you have”. I used the word “own” so many times, I couldn’t stop seeing it once I realized it was there, as in “my own” and “his own”. Where ever I could, I changed -ing verbs, especially ones using the word “is”. For example: “My ankle is throbbing” was changed to “My ankle throbs”. See how that’s more immediate. Instead of the character telling us what she’s feeling, we feel it too.
And there may be be words that you use too much that are fine used sparingly, but in such quantities seems like a glaring error. Although, to be honest, some of these words on the list are personal preference. I can see limiting the word “of”, but when I went through my manuscript using the Find & Replace task, I didn’t see how changing the “of” would make it better. So to each his own. There, I used it again!
It never hurts to brush up on these, and I’ll be referring to my own post when I get to the editing stage again. The trick is to keep the reader fully invested in the characters and the action, so why put distance or filters between the reader and your story? It’s easy to write “weak” in a first draft, but once that’s done, edit “strong”.
Watch out for Newbie Post #11: Strong Verbs – This one’s self-explanatory, and kind of gets to the gritty chunks and textures I was talking about in the beginning of this rambling post.
If you liked this one, check out Newbie Post #9: You’re Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone
So I’m reading the complete Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper as research. In case you don’t know, The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer are two of these novels encapsulated in Cooper’s works. I read The Last of the Mohicans many years ago, in response to the stirring epic movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and was pleasantly surprised that I liked it as much, and in some cases better, than the movie. But this reading is an entirely different animal.
To start, when I read TLOTM as a teenager, I was able to skip over some of the long, boring details that Cooper likes to revel in, rather skimming for important information and moving on. And when I say skimming, my skimming is just reading faster and a little less carefully. I am usually a very meticulous, though quick, reader. On my first reading, I concentrated on the feel of the story and allowed it to entertain me.
But now I’m reading to comprehend as much of the text as I can. I want to know what Cooper was trying to accomplish not only in plot, but also in underlying thoughts and motivations. His writing is littered with moralization and lessons to the Americans of the mid-1800’s, much of which I can’t (or won’t use), but they are classic works of fiction that deserve acknowledging, before I attempt to turn them into inspiration for YA novels.
This is a long hard read. Not only because I’m reading five novels, but because Cooper’s writing would have scared away the heartiest of modern agents. Take this paragraph from the opening of Chapter 8 in TLOTM:
The warning call of the scout was not uttered without occasion. During the occurrence of the deadly encounter just related, the roar of the falls was unbroken by any human sound whatever. It would seem that interest in the result had kept the natives on the opposite shores in breathless suspense, while the quick evolutions and swift changes in the positions of the combatants effectually prevented a fire that might prove dangerous alike to friend and enemy. But the moment the struggle was decided, a yell arose as fierce and savage as wild and revengeful passions could throw into the air. It was followed by the swift flashes of the rifles, which sent their leaden messengers across the rock in volleys, as though the assailants would pour out their impotent fury on the insensible scene of the fatal contest.
Phew! That was a mouthful. And I literally turned on my Kindle and took the first paragraph I found. I didn’t even have to search for something to demonstrate what I’m talking about. Every single paragraph is like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love classic literature, and there’s a part of me that greatly enjoys reading this, but there’s also a part of me that wants to get to the writing of my novel and the research is dragging! I mean, he could have just said the Hurons didn’t fire while the combatants struggled with each other because they were afraid they would hit their own man, but when their man was killed they fired on Hawkeye and Uncas. Okay, so his was far more beautiful, but he is very long winded.
Just read the Cliff Notes, you say? But, ahh my friend, I can not. Not only would it sorely test my moral compass, but I can’t actually find any Cliff Notes on the completed works. Not that I was looking to actually read them, mind you. It was just out of curiosity. Really.
So I am stuck (not entirely unhappily either) reading all five novels. That’s 37,789 Kindle pages. I’m not sure what that translates to in real pages, but let’s just look at that number again: 37,789 times I must click the Forward button. 37,789! And that’s not the only research I want to do. Damn me and my incessant need to be prepared, educated and thorough!
So my status update: I am 30% through. That’s 11,706 Kindle pages. I’ve read The Deerslayer and am working my way through The Last of the Mohicans right now. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to take notes on The Deerslayer as I was reading it, so I had to skim through again and take copious notes. At least with TLOTM I started the notes right away. But still, taking notes takes more time, so you know, more time reading. *sigh*
But it must be done. I am determined that I will not only be inspired by Cooper’s novels to write a Sci-Fi sweeping epic series, but that I will try to encapsulate his love of scenery and noble sentiments in the telling of this tale, almost as if they were characters themselves. But I plan on creating a future world different yet similar to our own that mirrors in some ways the world of England and America in the late 1700’s, with characters to populate that are flawed, but interesting and have real stories to tell. I’m not expecting much out of myself, am I?