45 Words to cut to be a stronger writer
Filter words are often used when narrating a story through the character’s eye.
You want the reader to feel the emotions of the character as they feel them. But filter words can have the opposite effect and even distance yourself from the character—NO BUENO.
Don’t make yourself crazy and cut them all out. (Or do, it’s your masterpiece, you get to decide it all!) However, if you want a stronger emotional connection to the reader, then it’s best to limit these words.
Here’s an example thanks to Let’s Talk Writing Craft:
She smelled it in the air, realizing that it reminded her of home. She knew it was only lemon and sugar, and she wondered if this smell was always going to remind her of her childhood.
Or, without the filter words.
The smell was in the air, and it brought memories of home. It was only lemon and sugar, but it always reminded her of her childhood.
Here’s another example thanks to Write It Sideways:
Sarah felt a sinking feeling as she realized she’d forgotten her purse back at the café across the street. She saw cars filing past, their bumpers end-to-end. She heard the impatient honk of horns and wondered how she could quickly cross the busy road before someone took off with her bag. But the traffic seemed impenetrable, and she decided to run to the intersection at the end of the block.
Eliminating the bolded words removes the filters that distances us, the readers, from this character’s experience:
Sarah’s stomach sank. Her purse—she’d forgotten it back at the café across the street. Cars filed past, their bumpers end-to-end. Horns honked impatiently. Could she make it across the road before someone took off with her bag? She ran past the impenetrable stream of traffic, toward the intersection at the end of the block.
CRUTCH WORDS are often used in the middle of the descriptions or in dialogue. These words are often filtered out with the help of an editor because they generally make the writing weaker.
If you overuse these words, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many writers do, especially after the first draft before revisions. Now you know what words to look out for during your editing process.
Here’s an example thanks to Writermums:
“I thought I had damaged the television set. To my relief when I turned it on it flickered to life. It was definitely not damaged.”
This is a straightforward example. You already know removing “definitely” does not change the meaning of the sentence.
If you’re trying to drive a point across, by all means do. But some points can be understood just as well by the reader without the use of adverbs we think so highly of.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the crutch words and their examples thanks to literactor:
Like: “Like” is used to show uncertainty. And you. Should. Not. Be. Uncertain.
My eyes rested on the gun for a sliver of a moment. I snapped forward, grabbed it, and it was like the chill metal flowed from the gun into my veins.
That: When “that” is employed to add a description, you can almost always delete the word ‘that.’
Ireland was nothing but flowing green hills that flowed green.
I was drunk the night that your father and I met.
Is: Is, am, are, was, or were—it’s likely useless. When’s the last time you and your friends just “was’d” for a while? Have you ever said, “Hey, guys, I can’t—I’m busy am-ing”?
The “is” verbs are connecting terms that stand between your readers and the actual description.
I was sprinting sprinted toward the doorway.
Suddenly: “Sudden” means quickly and without warning but using the word “suddenly” both slows down the action and warns your reader. Do you know what’s more effective for creating the sense of the sudden? Just saying what happens.
I pay attention to every motion, every movement, my eyes locked on them.
Suddenly, The gun goes off.
Dialogue NOTE: If you are using some of these in your dialogue tags, it’s totally acceptable. Why? Because it adds an authenticity to how people sound when they talk in real life. Focus on limiting these words in your narrative.
45 WORDS TO CUT OR LIMIT
List of Filter words:
PRO TIP- Filter words often indicate “telling” rather than “showing.” Instead of saying “Joe knew Shmoe was lying,” say “Joe avoided Shmoe’s eyes as he stammered ‘I don’t know where it is.’” More on Telling vs Showing coming soon.
feel (or feel like)
sound (or sound like)
List of Crutch words:
Is, Am, Are, Was, Were
in order to
A.R. Garrett is writing her debut historical fiction series, Atalanta & The Amazons. As a writer of the ancient world, she excavates facts & dissects mythology to spotlight the most prolific warrior women lost in the shadows of our history books—adding a touch of fantasy for the daydreamer in all of us.
A.R. Garrett has a degree in Business and English with a concentration in fiction writing from SNHU, and is currently working on a double masters in Creative Writing and Ancient History. She’s been a freelance fiction editor since 2018 and created a platform to help other women writers on FB: www.facebook.com/groups/supportingwomenwriters
When she’s not wrangling her two boys in the mountains of Colorado and trying endlessly to understand the mystical world of algorithms, she loves handwritten letters sealed with a wax stamp, and appreciates a dang-good brownie.
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