Filter words and crutch words are a more recent discovery of mine with writing. Learning what they are, why they’re bad, and how to get rid of them has really changed my style for the better.
Distancing words are things like: felt, heard, saw, touched, looked, etc. They put a barrier between the reader and the book, rather than immersing them right into the action or description.
For example this sentence: She looked up to see dark clouds in the sky and heard the distant rumble of thunder. She felt a chill run down her spine.
Can become: Dark clouds rolled across the sky and thunder rumbled in the distance. A chill ran down her spine.
Fewer words and more powerful and immersive, right?
Crutch words are slightly different. They are words we use too often, and pause a sentence unnecessarily. They are fine for speech, but aren’t needed in writing!
Examples include: Just, like, obviously, that, etc
Search and replace these words in your manuscript and you’ll find many that don’t need to be there!
Since I’ve just finished edits on book #4 in the Soldiering On series, I thought now would be a good time to share my list of words that I comb through my manuscripts for. I don’t worry about these two much when I’m actually writing, because it would slow me down too much. But when I’m in the edit phase I can be ruthless! I cut out over 1,500 of these words and phrases from my manuscript over a period of two days, so I definitely mean business.
|able to – can usually be replaced ‘can’ for a cleaner sentence|
|Almost – often this can reduce the power of what you’re trying to say|
|Began – as in ‘began to’. Get rid of this and just say the character did the action|
|Decided – again, the character can often simply do the action|
|Down – As in ‘sat down’. Usually just ‘sat’ is needed|
|Felt – describe the sensation without using ‘felt’|
|going to – can usually be replaced by ‘will’ or similar|
|Heard – A distancing word. Usually not needed.|
|Just – This one is a weakness of mine. It’s often not needed|
|Looked – (as in ‘she looked at’) Often, you can just describe what they are looking at|
|Out – eg. ‘Stepping out in front’. Often just ‘stepping in front’ would work|
|Quite – Like almost, it’s a weak word|
|Realised – This word can be useful, but sometimes it can be overused and unneeded. Use your judgement.|
|Really – Like ‘very’ it’s better to use one word rather than qualify with ‘really’. Eg. ‘Really big’ should be ‘enormous’.|
|Saw – Like ‘heard’, just describe what they see.|
|Seemed – Like ‘realised’, this is one to use your judgement on|
|Speculated – Words like this are often better written as a question. Eg. Instead of ‘she speculated whether he was evil’ simply write ‘Was he evil?’|
|Started – Like ‘began’ it’s often not needed|
|That – The general rule of thumb is, if the sentence makes sense without the ‘that’, then you don’t need it. It’s amazing how many of these I find.|
|there were/was – eg. ‘There were three people in the room’ can become ‘three people stood in the room’|
|Thought – Like ‘speculated’, it is often better, particularly if you write in Deep POV, to get rid of many of your ‘thoughts’, but they can also be useful.|
|Touched – Like ‘heard’ or ‘saw’, this is a filter word.|
|Try – ‘Tried to’ is one of those things that creeps into my writing a few times when it’s simply not needed.|
|Up – Same issue as ‘down’. Often redundant.|
|Very – See ‘really’|
|was _ing – this is one of my favourites! For example ‘He was leaning’ becomes ‘He leaned’|
|Watched – Like looked or saw, this can be a filter word.|
|Went – ‘Went to’ like ‘began’ and ‘started’ is often not needed.|
|were _ing – A sister of ‘was _ing’|
|Wished – This is a tricky one, but again there’s often a simpler way.|
|Wondered – Same as above|
So there you have it! What are some of the filter and crutch words you watch out for? I’m always on the lookout for words to add to my list!