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Getting Rid Of Filter Words in Your Writing

Filter words are words that filter the perceptions of the character, they are often redundant and can litter up the your writing, making it less effective. Filter words use the five sense and ‘thought’ words to describe what a character is thinking, feeling, touching, hearing, seeing, and tasting. With most writers doing their best to connect the reader to the characters, getting rid of filter words helps to achieve the never ending mantra of “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Filter words,Taste, Sound, Sight, Smell and Touch, ear, finger, eye, mouth, nose illsutration drawing by Katherine M Kennedy-3


When we are kids, we learn to write through the five senses. What does Mary see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? I guess the lesson hits home because most writers have to unlearn this method of expressing themselves in their writing. It's tedious being constantly told what is happening rather than experiencing it.

Five Sense Filter Words, Taste, Sound, Sight, Smell and Touch


  • Tasted — The food tasted of hot peppers / the heat brought tears to her eyes and a flush to her cheeks.


  • Heard — I heard her speak / She spoke.

  • Noticed — He noticed her walk into the room / She walked into the room.

  • Listen — I listened to her speak / she spoke.


  • Saw — She saw the man enter the building / the man entered the building)

  • Spotted — He spotted the filter words / there were filter words)

  • Looked — They looked at the paint drying / the paint dried)


  • Smelt — She smelt the aroma in the air/ there was an aroma in the air)

  • Smell — She could still smell the scent of death/ a scent of death lingered)


  • Felt — He felt the sweat on his forehead / his forehead was sweaty

Thought Process Filter Words:

  • Thought — I thought him a fool/ He's a fool.

  • Felt — He felt stressed/ the weight of the world rested on his shoulders.

  • Realized — He realized that he loved her/ he loved her.

  • Knew — I knew they were guilty / They were guilty

  • Decided — They decided to use filter words because they liked them / They used filter words because they liked them.

How To Get Rid of Filter Words

You will never be able to filter out every filter word, but writing can be drastically improved by getting rid of the bulk of them. It's also an excellent way of assessing where your writing is at. If removing filter words kills your paragraphs, then the paragraphs aren't of a high enough quality. I've been through this; it's painful, but the earlier you start to train out your filter words, the better off you'll writing will be.

Some Unnecessary Filter Words Will Be Easy To Cut

Get rid of filter words when the idea behind the filter word is obvious. You don't need to tell the reader she heard something when someone said something to them. You don't need to tell them they smelt it when it's a smell. That they saw it when they are describing it.

  • Filtered: I saw an old stone building looming over the hill.

  • Unfiltered: An old stone building loomed over the hill.

  • Filtered: She noticed a car backfire.

  • Unfiltered: A car backfired.

  • Filtered: She knew she loved him.

  • Unfiltered: She loves him.

  • Filtered: She heard him scream, "Get out of the way!"

  • Unfiltered: "Get out of the way!" He screamed.

Get Rid Of Them Through The Editing Process

Sometimes it's more complicated and might require a complete rewrite. Don't hamper your first draft by editing as you write and constantly searching for filter words. Keep them and deal with them during the first edit. Editing is an extensive process. Rather than wasting your time re-writing scenes that may be cut later, save the fine-tuning for the writing you want to keep.

Keep The Filter Word

Sometimes, you'll want to keep your filter words, which is completely fine. If your writing has no filter words at all then something has gone wrong.

Don't write yourself into knots trying to get rid of a filter word that is doing its job just fine.

Why Is Can Be Hard To Get Rid Of Filter Words

Filter words are either complicated or simple, sometimes, they can be erased with a minimum of effort, but other times it's not so easy.

The Filter Word Is Being Used To Limit Ambiguity

  • Filtered: She watched him walk across the room and thought of lilacs

  • Unfiltered: He walk across the room and she saw lilacs.

Without the word 'thought,' the sentence is unclear, making it seem like there were actual lilacs in the room with them.

  • Filtered: "Pushing her way into the crowd, she crouched beside his prone body. She felt along his wrist, searching for a pulse; there was none."

  • Unfiltered:"Pushing her way into the crowd, she crouched beside his prone body. There was no pulse."

The second sentence is much clearer, showing that she isn't just guessing or being told that there is no pulse but actually feeling for it.

There are other workarounds for ambiguity, the above examples could be rewritten to be clearer without filter words, but sometimes the most straightforward route is the best one. This is particularly true of magic and fantasy books, where ambiguity is an easy trap to fall into. The difference between your character feeling as though they are on fire with embarrassment and actually being on fire needs to be clearly delineated. Trust me; I confused many people with the difference between descriptive writing and the thing actually happening.

Your Sentence Isn't A Complete Idea

Often when I struggle to get rid of a filter word, it's because what I've written is not a complete idea; I'm using it to supplement an incomplete sentence.

"She heard a wave crash" is two ideas; a wave crashed, and she heard it. Simply changing it to "A wave crashed" feels like half an idea. A wave crashed and… what? Why does it matter if it crashed? Why does it matter if she heard it?

If you are supplementing sentences with filter words to complete an idea without any point, then the sentence likely needs a rethink. Simply removing the filter word won't fix the problem. The act of hearing a wave crash needs to imply something special, or it is redundant.

  • Filtered: "She heard a wave crash; it was first time she had heard anything in ten days."


  • Filtered: "She heard a wave crash and for a moment she could pretend the ocean was nearby."

Point Of View And Filter Words

Omniscient POV is likely to have a lot more filter words than first, second, or even third POV. POV switches and narrative voice make it much more challenging for the reader to know who is smelling what and why. When the POV switches, often the reader cannot be expected to know whose POV they are in without the writer telling them. If there is a narrator, then the thoughts and opinions will be assigned to that narrator unless the reader is told otherwise.


"Jane and John were both fools, they didn't think so, of course, but they were.

John looked at Jane, and wondered what she was thinking.

Jane looked at John and thought about nothing.

Neither noticed the ground crumbling beneath their feet."

Because You Don't Need To Get Rid Of The Filter Word

Not all filter words need to be destroyed; sometimes, they are necessary. Use your judgment.


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