Saturday, January 30, 2016

Take Out the Filters In Your Fiction


Coffee filters
Furnace filters.
Oil filters.

Filters are used to stop things from crossing between one point and another. Coffee filters keep the coffee grounds out of our beverages. Furnace filters (hopefully) trap dust, allergens, and other atmospheric contaminants. Oil and air filters keep our car's engines running smoothly. Even our vacuum cleaners demand filters these days. And then there's the blessing of Instagram and Photoshop filters... for which we are thankful!

But there's one place we should avoid filters: FICTION.

Filtering in fiction puts a barrier between the character's experience and the reader, and subsequently pulls the reader out of the story.

Janet Burroway coined the term in her book Writing Fiction.  She says, "As a fiction writer you will often be working through 'some observing consciousness'. Yet when you step back and ask readers to step back and observe the observer--to look at [the character] rather than through the character—you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene."
Filtering forces the reader to step back and to watch the character, rather than the action. It moves the reader away from the events on the page.
As a writer, I find myself most susceptible to filtering when I'm A) Trying to move a scene forward too quickly, or B) Unwilling to feel what my character is feeling. 
Filtering frequently shows up when we use words like see, feel, am, hear, looks. Obviously, these words are necessary parts of speech and often useful in writing, but when we begin to use them to filter what our characters are experiencing, we risk pulling our readers out of the story, and that's a death knell.
Here are some links that focus on filtering and offer helpful examples: 

And, for a more general lesson about writing description (and avoiding filtering) please check out the following.

I hope this helps you dig deeper into your POV characters and weed out those filters. We need them in a lot of places, but we don't need them in our fiction!

Our next meeting is February 20, 2016 at The Artful Cup!
I hope to see you there!