Editor Pet Peeves: Take off that Filter!
As the Assistant Editor for Hinnom Magazine, a bi-monthly publication of excellent weird/dark fiction, I get the pleasure of reading a lot of short stories.
And I do mean A LOT.
One of the benefits of so much reading is learning to spot the little things that hold a story back. Things that, if corrected, can take a story to the next level. And they often really are the little things — just enough clutter to send an otherwise great story to the rejection heap. I want to share a few of these little things in this series, ways you can polish your story and get it over the acceptance finish line. With this first post, I’m going to focus on one of my biggest pet peeves: Filtering.
Does your character feel the sun on her skin? Does she hear the wind ruffle the curtains? Does she see the fire smoking on the horizon? Does she touch and think and look and realize with every sentence?
If so, it’s a big mistake. Let me explain why. A reader wants to connect with a character. They want that magical moment where they forget they are reading and instead start experiencing. When this happens, the reader is literally seeing through the eyes of the character, hearing with their ears and tasting with their tongues. Every time an author insists on reminding a reader that this is happening (with dreaded filtering), it’s like a huge flashing red light screaming: “HEY, YOU! YEAH YOU! DON’T FORGET YOU ARE READING THIS!”
Let me give you an example. Here’s a passage loaded with filtering.
Max saw the man get out of the car and head his way. He heard the man’s boots clomp over the sidewalk and saw his face twist into a snarl as he neared the bench. Max felt his heart hammer in his chest at the sight and wondered if he could get away this time. Probably not, but he decided to try. Max stood and tasted the acid as it curled up his throat.
The man got out of the car and stomped his way. His boots clomped over the sidewalk, his face twisting into a snarl as he neared the bench. Max’s heart hammered in his chest as he stood and ran, acid curling further up his throat with every step.
Filtering makes writing weak. It’s jarring. It’s a bunch of extra, unnecessary words trying to tell a reader — Hey! This is a smell, or a taste, or a sight! You don’t need it. It should be obvious by describing the sense alone. Do I need to tell you a strawberry tastes sweet? Or that you are seeing a blue sky? Or that snow feels cold? Or is it enough to simply experience those things?
My vote is for the latter. And so is your character’s. Drop the filtering and your writing will thank you.
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