Make your writing sparkle by avoiding filter words

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world for material to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about how to make your writing sparkle…

If you want to make your writing sparkle, start avoiding so-called filter words.

What are they? Here’s a list:

  • Believed
  • Can/Could
  • Decided
  • Experienced
  • Felt
  • Heard
  • Knew
  • Looked
  • Noticed
  • Realized
  • Saw
  • Seemed
  • Sounded
  • Thought
  • Watched
  • Wondered

This terrific advice comes from writer JJ Graham on the DIY MFA website. You can read the whole post here.

As Graham puts it: “Too many of these filter words lead to readers yawning.” He adds: “Though using them isn’t the end of the world, a few filter words go a long way. Save them for when your characters truly watch or hear or [insert filter word] something.”

And I especially appreciate his final counsel: “Of course, as you’re writing your first draft, don’t stress too hard about filter words. Just get the story on paper. Much later, once you are at the line-level editing stage, highlight all these nuggets of potential awesomeness to pinpoint where to level up your writing.”

By the way, the blog entry includes four paragraphs of a story including filter words and then a rewrite of the same four paragraphs without them. Let me show you two before and after sentences so you can see how useful Graham’s advice is. (The before sentence shows the filter words in boldface.)


Sam heard a faint tapping at the window as he was grading essays. He watched the red pen in his hand stop.


A faint tapping at the window broke Sam’s concentration. He stilled, the red pen in his hand finally coming to rest.

Isn’t that a big improvement? 

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