Last week I learned something new about novel-writing. In a private conversation with Kat Heckenbach I learned about the concept of “Filter Words”. In short, this is a relatively new no-no since around 2002. The idea is that by including certain words like “see; feel; know;” you are removing the reader’s experience and placing it on the character.
Celia felt the cold wind on her skin. She saw the vague outline of a deer creep through the distance.
Gold Star Approved
The cold wind stung the skin. A deer was just visible in the distance.
As a person who has read novels that are hundreds of years old as well as novels that just came out on Tuesday, I understand the concept behind the condemnation of filter words. I truly do. But to me I think that each story is different. Some stories, like folk tales, have that essential remove as part of the nature of their telling. Having filter words in the story is to me somewhat like writing a mazurka instead of a minuet.
I was thinking on it this morning after re-reading Jill Domschot’s post about removing the filter words from her own novel. I suddenly realised what it reminded me of.
When we bought our house back in 1999, wall-to-wall carpet had been the rage for years, as had white cabinets. We had our house built by a turn-key builder and those options were the more expensive, top of the line ones. When we’d lived here about three or four years all those shows about house-flipping suddenly became popular and I had a near-steady diet of them on the TiVo. You’d watch people go into an older home and try to ready it for resale. Suddenly hardwood and cherry cabinets were all the rage. And of course you had to have stainless steel appliances. I’d watch those shows and suddenly feel a rank discontent with my beautiful home–the home I had designed with my husband to reflect our tastes and enjoyments. For instance, neither of us likes stainless appliances. We prefer the sleek look of black; to us stainless appliances are a reminder of the industrial kitchens where we washed dishes in our impoverished college years.
Back then all the house flippers were putting in granite countertops. There wasn’t a house flipped without a seriously costly granite countertop, everyone repeating the conventional wisdom that “it will pay for itself with what it adds to the retail value.” If I were a more insecure person I would have pried up our wholly satisfactory plain counters just to feel better about myself. Now, not a decade later it turns out that granite is not the star anymore. Now there’s glass, steel,and other material you can actually cook on. (Granite, it turns out, isn’t so fantastic in a working kitchen.)
That’s exactly how I see these new types of rules. Like granite and stainless they have a place. They may be wonderful in your novel. But more and more I’m realising that the story trumps the remodeling trends in the writing world.