We’re back! I hope you’ve been able to tackle your filters with a little confidence, but I want to make sure you can address every filter you come across, so let’s dive in.
Last time we broke filters into three categories. The categories won’t matter once you can spot and fix them, but breaking them down will make it easier recognize what is true filtering and what is a doppelganger masquerading as a filter.
I originally planned on tackling our last two categories External and Action Filters in this article, but it was so massive I needed to split them up. So let’s build a little more understanding with Action Filters, and next time we’ll wrap up the series with External Influences.
Movement, actions, and reactions that are performed by the POV character: feel (something), watch, touch, look, glance, etc.
At first, I thought action filters were the most difficult to recognize and remove because they look like regular verbs, and vice-versa. But if we make an important distinction before proceeding, we can tell much easier.
Filters are verbs done through one’s senses, or in their mind, that produce an experience (sight, sound, taste, idea, etc.) to be conveyed to the reader.
So “Maroc observed” is a filter because we’re using his sight to show what he sees, however, “Maroc ran” is not a filter because the action produces an effect (Maroc moving).
Why is this important? Let’s look at an example:
Example 1: Maroc grabbed his gun and crouched, waiting, then, once the marauders came around the corner, he took aim and squeezed the trigger, felling the leader.
There are five verbs attributed to Maroc (grabbed, crouched, waiting, took aim, squeezed) but all of them produce an effect (control of an object, movement, passage of time, movement, and more movement). So while that example has issues of excessive stage direction, we’re not filtering the narration to convey what Maroc is experiencing.
Example 1.1: Maroc crouched behind a boulder and listened to the thundering hooves grow closer, and when the noise pounded in his head, he peeked out from behind the rock and scanned the riders for their leader.
Another five verbs attributed to Maroc (crouched, listened, pounded, peeked, and scanned), and you should be able to guess which ones produce an effect and which produce an experience. “Crouched” shows the effect of Maroc’s movement and he doesn’t experience anything through it unless he sits on a cactus. But “listened” is definitely an experience since we describe what he hears as “thundering hooves grow(ing) closer.”
“Pounded” is an oddball, but Maroc isn’t the subject in this clause, “the noise” is. So while Maroc is experiencing the pounding, it is the noise that is causing the effect. Even if the noise was somehow our POV character, it is affecting someone else, so either way, “pounded” is not a filter.
But what about the last two? Both use the Maroc as the subject and produce a visual experience, but they also incorporate an element of movement: coming out from behind the rock and looking from rider to rider. So which is it, filtering or not?
Help, I’m Stuck!
I guarantee you will come across a filter that you’re just not sure about. It might be buried in a flashback, hidden in third-person narration, and under a dependent clause nowhere near your POV as the subject, but you’ll look at it and not know where to start. What do you do?
It’s easier than you’d think. Take the filters in question and swap them with a new verb. You might have to reword the sentence to get it to fit, but you’ll likely realize which is which without needing to go through the full exercise. So let’s take our example and switch out “peeked” and “scanned” for “jumped” and “looked,” respectively.
Example 1.2: Maroc crouched behind a boulder and listened to the thundering hooves grow closer, and when the noise pounded in his head, he jumped out from behind the rock and looked for their leader.
“Jumped” is definitely an action requiring movement, so we’re safe keeping “peeked,” but “looked” is still ambiguous. Or is it? While we aren’t provided with an experience, or the visual of what he sees, it’s still inserting Maroc unnecessarily. What if we isolated the clause and said, “Maroc looked for their leader”? That definitely seems like a filter to me.
So that leaves us with two out of the five being filters and the rest are necessary actions to convey what is happening, all without interjecting our POV into the flow. What might a fix look like?
Fix 1: Maroc crouched behind a boulder as thundering hooves drew closer, and when the noise pounded in his head, he peeked out from behind the rock. If he was going to survive, he had to kill the leader.
Not too bad. There’s lots of action, which is a good thing, and we swapped out the filter for the reason why he was looking for the leader—and clarity is always a good thing.
Action filters can be the hardest to figure out. Between getting them confused with other action verbs and the subtle nature of filtering, you’ll likely spend the majority of your time digging into these. So if you get stuck there are a couple of things that will help narrow it down:
- Does the verb provide an experience or an effect, or involve the POV character’s senses?
- Swap the verb with a new one
- Isolate the clause with the verb