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Old 11-19-2012, 11:21 PM   #1
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Filtering confusion

I'm starting in on my first thorough edit, so I thought I'd search for all the 'filter' words and tackle those.

My question is: the word seem. There are times when I believe it to be the right word for the situation. Sometimes my MC makes an observation, but knows she doesn't have all the facts, would it 'seem' to her to be X?

Example: "I don't mean to seem ungrateful, but" Or "They entered what seemed to be a residential area." (She's never been here before, so she isn't sure.)

I suppose in the second example I could go into a detailed description of the area, but it's not that key to the story. Sort of like not naming minor, one time characters. I just want to give a 'feel' so the reader can walk through to the more important bit to follow.

I'm I being too literal? e.g In practical terms, I should try to avoid filter words, but there are times they are just the right word?
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Old 11-19-2012, 11:31 PM   #2
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I agree "seem" is often the right word.

I try to avoid filtering phrases, such as he saw her do this, she heard them do that, they smelled the flaming barn, etc. However, my protagonist is deaf, so "he saw her say" often makes some specific sense for his perceptions.
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Old 11-19-2012, 11:40 PM   #3
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Nekko, in your second example I would've used "what appeared to be an industrial area", but it's just a matter of taste really.
The word is fine in these instances, but other times it would be wise to check your phrases and see if you could do without it.

It might be a sign, that the author is insecure in his writing, when deployed too often.
But in speech like in your examples it is just hunky dory.
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Old 11-20-2012, 12:02 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post
I'm starting in on my first thorough edit, so I thought I'd search for all the 'filter' words and tackle those.

My question is: the word seem. There are times when I believe it to be the right word for the situation. Sometimes my MC makes an observation, but knows she doesn't have all the facts, would it 'seem' to her to be X?

Example: "I don't mean to seem ungrateful, but" Or "They entered what seemed to be a residential area." (She's never been here before, so she isn't sure.)

I suppose in the second example I could go into a detailed description of the area, but it's not that key to the story. Sort of like not naming minor, one time characters. I just want to give a 'feel' so the reader can walk through to the more important bit to follow.

I'm I being too literal? e.g In practical terms, I should try to avoid filter words, but there are times they are just the right word?
Using seem in moderation is fine. You used it appropriately in both your examples. Using seem when the other option is going into unnecessary detail to describe a town that seems residential when it's not important to the story, and when one word can replace useless exposition, is the correct decision.

In the dialogue example, using seem there is the way people talk. Don't stilt your dialogue because you're afraid of filtering.

The filtering advice is more of a guideline. It's not a hard and fast rule of never filter. Writers often have a habit of frequently filtering, which is why I think it's mentioned on this forum so often.
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Old 11-20-2012, 12:17 AM   #5
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When looking for those filtering words, I would advise that you carefully review each sentence. No words are to be avoided, and what you think is filtering might not be that at all.
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Old 11-20-2012, 01:05 AM   #6
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It's not filtering, but just weak and loose language.

I'd remove it because there is no use of the word whatsoever. It effectively doubles the length of the sentences.

There isn't "filter" words, much as the narration is being filtered through the narrator--who is the source of the narration.

Here's an article that sums it up well.
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Old 11-20-2012, 02:48 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post
My question is: the word seem. There are times when I believe it to be the right word for the situation. Sometimes my MC makes an observation, but knows she doesn't have all the facts, would it 'seem' to her to be X?
I use 'seem' and 'appeared to be' a lot, since I write mostly in first person. The pov character often has to make suppositions about people and things he has no certain knowledge about.
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Old 11-20-2012, 02:51 AM   #8
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Thanks everyone. It would seem that...

No really, I will just have to hunker down and analyze each one to see where I need to make my sentences stronger, and where it is the right word.

Will - sometimes you offer tough words of wisdom! (This isn't meant as a judgement.) Sometimes I/we need a kick in the pants. I appreciate your feedback.
Oh, and thanks for the link. I haven't seen this one before, but I have a list of words that Janet Burroway recommends avoiding that I'm using as a guideline.
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Old 11-20-2012, 03:32 AM   #9
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I'm not an expert by any means, but as per my personal preference, using "seemed" or "appeared to be" are perfectly reasonable if you are writing from a particular character's point of view. If you are writing from outside of any character's point of view, then it would be best to avoid it.
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Old 11-20-2012, 07:15 AM   #10
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Pfft. If "seem" and "appear" were good enough for Cicero, they're good enough for me!

...but more seriously, I agree with the general assessment that if you've looked at the use of those words in a given a sentence and gone "Ayup, that makes sense and is the best way to phrase that sentence," you should leave them in. Chopping out any particular word in all instances because it's a Bad Word is a good way to lose voice and make for clumsy sentences.

(And I say that as someone who has to go back through first drafts with a chainsaw to remove adverbs. But I don't remove all of them! And sometimes I even add them in, because they're snappier than a prepositional phrase. Those little bastards breed, I swear.)
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:53 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fadeaccompli View Post
And I say that as someone who has to go back through first drafts with a chainsaw to remove adverbs.
LOL - When I searched for all words ending in ly in my draft i got 3k instances! No wonder I'm so painfully over count.

Thanks! And much obliged to you too EthanC!
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Old 11-20-2012, 03:59 PM   #12
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With something like that second example, I'd rejig it. If something only seems to be a residential area, there must be something causing it to appear that way - that's the important bit you want to show the reader (and this is essentially a show vs tell problem).

eg

Around the corner the houses were large, set back from the road, but the lawns sloping gently to the pavement were unkempt and the driveways stood empty of cars. People did not live here.
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Old 11-20-2012, 04:57 PM   #13
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Using POV to excuse filtering is a crutch. If you are using inordinate amounts of filtering language, you are writing too shallow.

Go deeper into your character's POV and filtering language all but disappears. Don't insult your reader's intelligence by suggesting they can't pick up which statements are observation or opinion. Present them as they ARE to you character, because POV is your character's reality, not just a screen on which to watch your story.
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Old 11-20-2012, 07:29 PM   #14
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Hi, Nekko - your opening post examples are not about 'filtering' or the creating of distance between the POV character and the reader - here's a link to a thread you may find helpful.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/...d.php?t=248463

And typing 'filtering' or 'narrative distance', say, - or any other short phrase on a topic one wishes to search - in the Site specific Google search box to the bottom left of this (or any page) it usually throws up links to stacks of threads on or related to the topic concerned.
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Old 11-20-2012, 08:34 PM   #15
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Theo, Vanessa & Bufty Thanks for chiming in!

Bufty - LOL your comment in the thread you linked is one I saved months ago when I first learned about filtering, and re-read when I sat down to start this edit! You give some really clear examples.

Guess I just needed the reassurance that not every single use of one of these words is bad, but I do need to remove A LOT of them.
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Old 11-20-2012, 08:43 PM   #16
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Quote:
WillSauger: I'd remove it because there is no use of the word whatsoever.
Yikes, WillSauger. I'd remove "whatsoever" from that sentence. . .

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Old 11-20-2012, 08:58 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nekko View Post
Example: "I don't mean to seem ungrateful, but" Or "They entered what seemed to be a residential area." (She's never been here before, so she isn't sure.)
The first example is dialogue, which is held to a different standard than descriptive language.

The second example ... this is just my opinion, but unless there's a possibility that it's not really a residential area (or something strange has happened to it as another poster mentioned), then "seemed to be" is probably cluttering up the sentence.
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Old 11-20-2012, 09:32 PM   #18
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To help clear up what's going on in my second example - My MC is walking through the outer bailey of a large castle. Most of the area would be dominated by workshops: tannery, blacksmith, armory, etc. The important parts of the scene are her conversation with the king and their destination. She is absorbed in events that just transpired and doesn't know where he's taking her. It 'seems' to her the function of some of the buildings has changed, but she isn't really doing any serious observation of her surroundings at the moment.
Taking the time to describe the area detracts from all of this, and is unimportant. This area never comes up again - like a minor, one time character.

Perhaps I chose an example that was too vague. Sorry if I've complicated things for those of you taking the time to weigh in.
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Old 11-20-2012, 09:45 PM   #19
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If it's a simple description of the area, to denote movement and set the scene without getting into too many details, I stand by my suggestion to remove "seemed to be".
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Old 11-20-2012, 09:46 PM   #20
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And I don't think it's too vague or complicated! It's an interesting conversation.
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:28 PM   #21
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If phrases such as "he saw her do this" and "she heard them do that" are filtering and filtering is to be avoided, then here's what we should do: we should pull all of Elmore Leonard's books from the shelves and burn them before some beginning writer reads them and picks up bad habits. After all, we wouldn't want beginning writers to learn from bestselling authors when they can learn so much more from writing forums and creative writing classes.

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Old 11-20-2012, 11:41 PM   #22
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Quote:
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LOL - When I searched for all words ending in ly in my draft i got 3k instances! No wonder I'm so painfully over count.
Er, actually, if you delete those -ly adverbs (e.g. adverbs of manner) and then replace them with prose that "shows" what that adverb had been "telling", then, you'll end up with a much bigger word count.

If you merely delete those adverbs (without replacing them with descriptive prose), then, most likely, your prose will risk ending up being skimpy or flat or voiceless or a combination of those.

Balance and judgment is needed. The writer decides where he wishes to elaborate (a bunch of descriptive prose) and where not to elaborate (-ly adverbs or nothing at all). That is one of the factors that make an author's writing style unique.
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:46 PM   #23
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Yes, filtering phrases (such as "he saw" and "he felt" etc.) are pretty much necessary to almost all fiction. They are a mechanism, a tool, which can accomplish an objective or two or more. They come in real handy when there is a big "gap" in the transition between two paragraphs or two sentences, when the reader's attention had been focused elsewhere than on that character. They also come in handy when the writer wants to emphasize that the character is now really noticing something.

Of course, like spices for food, filtering phrases shouldn't populate as though they are uncaged rabbits. (Unless the writer wanted that type of effect. )
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:49 PM   #24
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Writers need to know when and how to effectively use filtering phrases. Blindly deleting them out of one's prose ain't a good thing to do.

Many times, editing the prose to delete them can cause the prose to then have an effect that the writer didn't really want.
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Old 11-21-2012, 12:10 AM   #25
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A quick aside:
Quote:
kkbe: Yikes, WillSauger. I'd remove "whatsoever" from that sentence. . .
You aren't the only one, WillSauger. I know Jaligard would remove ". . ." from that sentence, and the italics from this one.

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Last edited by kkbe; 11-21-2012 at 03:42 AM. Reason: He'd remove my head if he saw how I spelled his name. Yikes.
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