Filtering.

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You’ve written a piece that feels tight, polished, and ready. You’ve revised it so many times. There aren’t any typos or POV slips — it’s clean. Your writing group loves it. You’ve been sending it out.

But for some reason, it keeps getting rejected. What are you missing?

Well, maybe nothing. Stories get rejected way more than they get published, and not because they aren’t good stories. If that’s the case, you just have to keep going.

On the other hand, you might be filtering your scenes too much.

Filtering: places in your scenes where you point to your character’s consciousness unnecessarily.

This filter of consciousness can have a dulling effect on the immediacy of an otherwise vibrant scene.

For example:

I looked out the window and saw a blue car park in front of the house across the street.

The sentence above has a filter on it: you are aware of the person seeing.

You can make the same moment feel more alive by writing it this way:

A blue car parked in front of the house across the street.

In the unfiltered sentence, the car exists. You can see it. The character’s presence is implied because you’ve established your point of view. You become the character, seeing the car. There is no filter between you and the experience.

When you write this way, your scenes can become consciousness.

If you write about your character seeing something, you are reminding your reader that she’s reading about a character.

You point to a character’s consciousness — she has vision and is using it to navigate her world — but you miss out on the opportunity to create an experience for your reader.

You want to create the experience of seeing. Take the filter off.

Writing filtered consciousness is asking your reader to peer into a diorama and imagine the story playing out in the box.

Writing unfiltered consciousness is letting your reader live the story as if she’s right inside the diorama.

That’s the magic of writing unfiltered consciousness. It lets your reader experience what your character experiences.

Removing all of your filters might not work for every kind of prose, or in every context. It depends on the effect you’re going for. But in my experience, almost all scenes are sharper and more vivid as soon as these filters are removed.

As an experiment, try removing places where you label a character “seeing” something in your story. Write the details of what the character sees, instead. If she sees a bird, just describe the bird through her eyes, and don’t tell us she’s seeing it.

Let the reader become the character, and see the bird itself, through your character’s eyes.

Whenever you write things like I think, I realize, I see, I feel, I hear, etc., those are little flags that can tell you that you’re filtering your character’s consciousness through language. If we already know we’re in the mind of a character because of the point of view you’ve chosen, then those flags might be redundant.

Try it — rewrite every scene so it comes out of your character’s consciousness.

Zap! That puts a sizzle of life into your scenes, doesn’t it?

Once you understand filtering and what it does, you’ll probably start noticing it everywhere, in everything you read. Because once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

This can be annoying, but ultimately it’s good, because that means you’ll gradually stop doing it so much. Even in your first drafts.

(Sorry/not sorry).

Take those filters off, cut out the redundant bits, and go submit some more.


Photo credit: Mike Scheid on Unsplash


Mediating.
Deep Play.

6 comments

Sarah Selecky

<3 <3 <3
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Dana Harris-Trovato

Is this something that refers only to first person? If not, can you give third person (or other ) example? Thanks so much!
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Kathy Martens

Ah, Sarah. Such simplicity that leads to the magic. Thank you for always offering up the magic keys to many locks. I so appreciate you! ?
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Sarah Selecky

Hi Dana! Yes, of course -- filtering can happen in any POV. When you write without that filter on your scenes, you must rely on the POV you've established, so your reader knows who's consciousness you're writing in. For example, in third person with the filter on, your sentences might read like this: Rebecca sipped her tea. She looked out the window and saw a blue car park in front of the house across the street. Take the filter off, and it could be like this: Rebecca sipped her tea. A blue car parked in front of the house across the street. Once you've already established your POV, you can trust that your reader will follow these cues, and put it together - she'll know who's consciousness she's in. You don't have to keep reminding your reader that you're in third person with every sentence. Hope this helps! S
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Janie Upham

Sarah, thank you for an outstanding insight. I’ve read a few classics on writing well, and don’t recall mention of this filter fiasco. For those of us writing memoir, it’s invaluable. It’ll make it more fun editing the “shitty first draft”!
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Amanda Niehaus-Hard

Thank you so much for this! One of my thesis readers pointed out several instances of this, but I never truly understood what it was. This post helps immensely! Thank you!
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