Major Fiction Writing Mistake: Filtering

Which of the following sentences was most likely written by a novice writer?

 I saw Maurice come through the front door.

 Maurice came through the front door.

If you said the first sentence, you win the proverbial cookie.

A common mistake made by beginning fiction writers is constantly filtering images through a character. The phrases He saw, she observed, I noticed fill the amateur’s manuscript.

Why is filtering bad?

  1. It’s unnecessary.

The reader is smart enough to know your point of view character is doing the “seeing”. Trust the reader. Filtering is clunky and the reader will feel it.

  1. It creates distance from the narrative.

You want your reader immersed in your story, right? Then put the reader in the thick of the action. Get right to it. Whenever possible, give them the unfiltered experience.

Another common issue associated with filtering is “turning”.

The novice writer will not only “see” things but also do a butt-load of “turning and seeing” things.

Example: I turned and saw Maurice picking his nose.

If you absolutely must “turn”, write it like this: “I turned. Maurice was picking his nose.”

Other sensory details fall prey to filtering.

It’s good to include other sensory details besides sight in your story, but smell, taste, touch, and hearing can also fall victim to filtering.

Here are some examples.

Filtered: I heard gunshots in the distance

Unfiltered: Gunshots boomed in the distance.

Filtered: I smelled his nasty breath.

Unfiltered: His breath stunk.

As a rule of thumb, the most direct, unfiltered version of the story is best. Filtering is for coffee, not for fiction.