Improve your Prose: Filter Words

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Since I started writing, one of the things I did to improve my craft was to get people to critique my pieces. Filter words, at the beginning of my journey, where one of the main things the more experienced writers pointed out as a point to improve in my work.

Naturally, as I didn’t have the slightest clue what a filter word was, I investigated quite a lot, and well, they were right, I had indeed abused my use of them in my pieces.

And so, with all the knowledge I’ve gathered through my journey, today I bring you this article.

What are Filter Words?

Filter words are words that filter the world through the lens of the main character. This mean they create a detachment, a distance between the story and the reader. This, of course, is a tool that is not always bad, but if overused it can certainly lead to the reader having a hard time immersing in the story.

Let me give you some examples:

  • I felt the sun touching my skin. It was pleasant, a tender caress.
  • I heard the distant rattle of chains grinding against stone.
  • He watched the boulder falling until it struck the ground, shattering it.

Can you see how the words in bold create a sort of layer between the reader and the story? If you do, you know must be thinking, Oh no, I have hundreds of them in my manuscript. What do I do?

Fortunately, they are extremely easy to fix. All you have to do is erase them, and perhaps make some minor changes to the sentences. Let’s fix the prior examples.

  • The sun touched my skin. It was pleasant, a tender caress.
  • The rattle of chains grinding against stone resounded in the distance.
  • The boulder struck the ground, shattering it.

As you can see, they are extremely easy to fix.

Here I compiled a list of the most popular filter words:

  • Felt
  • Touched
  • Watched
  • Saw
  • Realized
  • Decided
  • Heard
  • Looked
  • Noticed


If you have trouble sitting down and writing, getting into that magical “flow state” I strongly recommend to actually use filter words as you write your first draft. You will save time if you care about them in the editing stage and not while you write because, unless you are a very seasoned writer, thinking of a way around them will make you stop mid-sentence, and that will interrupt your train of thought.

Bare in mind filter words are not the devil, and they shouldn’t be erased completely from your manuscript, just make sure you aren’t overusing them. If you have three filter words in the same paragraph, chances are, you will need to cut at least two of them.

Personally, I try to avoid them as much as I can. This doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Hell, Patricia McKillip, Ursula K. Le Guin used them a lot in their works, and their prose is widely regarded as two of the best in the fantasy genre.

Learn about them, see how others use them, find what works best for you. Remember, rules are meant to be broken, but first you have to understand why they were made in the first place.

Fantasy Author. Lover of words. Dweller of the southern lands of Argentina.

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