Filters Pt. 2 – Internal Processes

Welcome back! Have you discovered filters to ax in your own work? I’ll bet you stopped at least once and thought, “How do I fix this? The sentence makes little sense if I remove the filter word.”

I listed some filter words in the last article, but that was a starting point so you can spot them. The frustrating part is, just because you find a “filter word” doesn’t mean you are filtering your writing. But how do you know the difference?

If you need a refresher on the basics, give Filters Pt. 1 a quick read, otherwise, let’s dive into the nuances of filters!

In case you forgot, filters are:

Words and phrases that keep a reader from experiencing the story through a character’s senses and instead tells the reader what the character is experiencing.

To understand the exceptions, we need to break filters into three categories. They’re straightforward, but let’s walk through them first.

Internal Filters: Activity that happens in the mental space of a character: thought, realization, consideration, decisions, wonder, etc.

External Filters: Environmental effects experienced by the point of view (POV) character: feel, hear, see, taste, smell, etc.

Action Filters: Movement, actions, and reactions that are performed by the POV character: feel (something), watch, touch, look, glance, etc.

Grouping filters like this, we can see their differences easier and we can make informed choices about when to use them. One thing to note though, filters apply to our POV character only. So if you encounter a filter word attributed to another character, you have two options:

  1. It’s an action performed by someone else and observed by the POV character. Leave it be.
  2. You’re head hopping (especially with internal filters). Delete it.

Internal Processes

Many times we need to portray the conclusions a character reaches, but it’s difficult to know when to state this. So let’s look at an example:

Example 1: Marroc opened the door, but when he realized a meeting was in progress, he scurried away.

We need to tell what he concluded, otherwise, how do we know he walked into a meeting, right? No. If you do your job, the reader will come to the same conclusion through your narration (show don’t tell). This one is easy to fix: show the reader the clues that helped the character reach their conclusion.

Marroc opened the door and five heads swiveled in his direction, a glowing projector screen illuminating their ghostly faces in its pallid light.

“Oops, sorry,” he mumbled, scurrying away.

Did you conclude they were in a meeting too? The edited version is powerful, and it provides a glimpse into how Marroc perceives the meeting, which is our goal—let the reader experience the story through the character.

Unknown Reasoning

But what if that character is using the narration to step through their thoughts? That might a doppelgänger hiding as a filter.

Example 2: Marroc had always seen the grunts as mindless cannon-fodder, there to kill and die—but Alistair changed all of that. The recruit led his squad to overcome challenges that even confused the tacticians, and Marroc slowly realized he needed to assess each individual.

“Seen,” and “realized” are both filter words, but what’s their purpose? Neither provides stage direction for something Marroc is doing. Because this happens in his mind, we don’t know exactly what made Marroc come to his conclusion, only vague generalizations.

You could write a whole chapter “showing” how Alistair’s actions changed Marroc’s mind, but depending on those reasons, his realization could take up its own book. Summarizing events like this, we quickly force the reader to the same conclusion. But that doesn’t give you carte blanche to filter away, we must still apply the same principals of showing the things that caused a realization.

Previous Deductions & Comparisons

What about thoughts in the past, or comparing them to the POV character’s current time frame? Narrating a flashback in real time will take a pile of words, especially if we’re just concerned about the conclusions themselves. The great thing is, we’re talking about a past version of the character, so in essence, his past-self is a different character, and we can use our rules for filters outside our POV character:

  1. It’s an action performed by someone else and observed by the POV character. Leave it be.
  2. You’re head hopping (especially with internal filters). Delete it.

Thankfully, internal filters don’t count as head hopping because we’re in the POV character’s head, so we can leave it. let’s look at an example.

Marroc had been happy because he thought he was free, now he realized, that freedom was an illusion.

While this example contains “filter words” we’re not separating the reader from the POV. We want to show how he arrived at the conclusion, but talking about a past “thought” and a current “realization,” there’s not much we can show. In this instance, the context must provide the information we need.

Conclusion

The distinction is blurry. You must make judgment calls to show a character’s conclusion, or to use an internal filter and summarize the information quickly, but now you have the tools to make that call. While every filter word may not be filtering your story, they still indicate weak writing. So practice spotting the difference and removing your filters, and your narration will be strong, direct, and add details to your world and characters you never thought possible.

*Proceed with caution* Opt for showing every time if possible. Remember how Marroc saw the faces as “ghostly” in our fix to the first example? What if it had been “angry” or “joyous”? That one word can change a whole character or situation, so don’t pass opportunities to bring your story to life.

Have you run across a filter you can’t decide how to address? Let me know in the comments and we’ll tackle it together!


In the next article, we’ll discuss external and action filters. They behave similarly and make up most filters you will encounter, so you’ll want to stick around for Pt. 3!

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