The Hardest Words to Keep Out of Your Writing

As I finish reading through my novel for the 800th time, I’ve not only been scrambling to correct the typos that crept into the manuscript after my last edit, but I’ve noticed a very annoying habit of mine, now on full display for the public to see. So, this gave me a great idea for a blog post where I can promote my debut book while unabashedly ripping it apart. (Okay, I’m kidding about the unabashed part. I’m absolutely mortified.)

Disclaimer: I should mention that this blog post is about a rule that is NOT hard and fast. There are exceptions to all, and filter words are necessary. A lot of popular writers use them, and despite what you may have seen on YouTube, you do NOT want to delete or replace every one of these words in your manuscript.

So, let’s get right into this:

“Hey,” I replied, feeling a bit relieved as I walked closer to him.

Chapter 1 Page 10

Aeron likes filter words. He likes to tell the reader that his characters are feeling something instead of showing the reader. Sometimes I’ll overlook them, but in this case, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I could have shown Alex relaxing his shoulders, unclenching the straps of his bag, letting his hands fall limp at his sides. This was a tense moment, and I let this fall flat. There were a lot of things I could have done here that would have offered a more immersive experience than just telling the reader that he feels relieved.

A chill went down my spine as I remembered the giant black wolf
from earlier.

Chapter 1 page 11

This is something that creeps into our writing from time-to-time: clichés. I can forgive this a little more since the story was written in first-person, and the narrative voice is the main character’s, but it still bothers me. It didn’t cross my mind until this last read-thru. There’s something about holding a paper version of your book that allows you to spot things you normally wouldn’t. Instead of saying ‘a chill went down my spine,’ I could have shown the reader Alex shuddering.

When I saw him cast a quick glance at his weapon in the snow next to him, I knew it was an act.

Chapter 16 page 241

For this one, I searched for “saw” in the pdf and came across this. There are so many examples of filtering language in this book, and these are things I and my copy editor missed. Do you see the problem with this sentence? At first, it looks fine, but when you drill down into the words, you’ll see that I don’t even need the ‘saw.’ We are in Alex’s PoV, we can see what he’s seeing. He doesn’t need to tell us he saw things. Also, did I really need “and I knew it was an act?” I don’t think so. We already deduce that the person he fought with was trying to trick him. I don’t need to beat this over anyone’s head.

He glanced at his weapon lying in the snow next to him.

Its fur was tar black, yet seemed to have an oily shimmer where dappled sunlight touched it.

Chapter 1 Page 5

I ended up changing this in a revision, but I wanted to put this example here. Using the word ‘seemed’ can make sense when the character is uncertain about something. For instance, climbing up a steep hill seems difficult until you experience it. In this case, he’s not unsure about what he’s seeing. The fur had an oily shimmer, otherwise he wouldn’t have described it that way.

Its fur was tar black, yet had an oily shimmer where dappled sunlight touched it.

As much as filter words can bog down a sentence, do not find all/delete them all in your manuscript! Here’s why:

It snowed outside, and I felt cold.

Here you could describe how cold the snow was. You want to make your reader experience that, because it’s happening to the character right now (even if this is in past tense, it’s happening to the character in narration).

“I felt cold,” I said.

‘Felt’ is now being used in dialogue. Chances are, your character is not going to wax poetic about the sting of the cold pricking against her skin while chatting with her best friend. Also, if your character is recalling something, you don’t have to describe everything, and filtering could work to keep the pace balanced. Yeah, I know, writing is terribly confusing. This is why I often say there are no fast and hard rules to this art, and it can all fly out the window in the hands of a skilled writer.

However, there are very few instances where filter words are necessary. If the meaning of the sentence only makes sense with filtering language, use it. However, if you can take the word out and the sentence is just as clear and less wordy, by all means, take it out. By recognizing when you are using unnecessary filtering, you’re one step closer to levelling up as a writer.

This has been an annoying lesson I’ve learned from reading through this first novel as a more experienced editor and writer. I’ll be much more aware of this in my next novel, and you all get to learn right along with me as I share my mistakes, and have a good laugh.