Filter words and phrases it’s best to avoid in writing fiction

writing tips


Today’s reblog is a fantastic post by Kathy Steinemann whose blog offers fabulous posts on writing tips and she wrote this informative featured article for another prolific writing blog I follow with Anne R. Allen.  Read and enjoy and see if you can pick out the errors.


A list of 80+ filter words it is best to avoid in writing fiction. Filter words separate the reader from the characters’ feelings.


This article provides a list of writing filters, with practical examples of how to replace them. You’ll also find exercises that can double as story prompts.


Popular advice recommends that writing include all five senses whenever possible.


Let’s evaluate a paragraph that complies with this recommendation.


Patricia heard steps on the front porch, and she smelled sulfur. She could taste bile rising into her throat. She couldn’t see anything in the dark, so she groped until she felt the familiar cold metal of her son’s baseball bat.


“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. “The paragraph embraces all five senses.”


Please review the underlined words. They filter the events through Patricia’s perceptions. Let’s consider a different version.


Someone—or something—stomped across the front porch. The reek of sulfur overwhelmed Patricia’s nostrils, and bitter bile burned her throat. She groped in the darkness for a weapon. What was that? Ah, the comforting cold metal of her son’s baseball bat.


The second version employs strong verbs to transport readers into the action. Patricia hears stomping, she smells sulfur, she tastes bitter bile, she sees darkness, and she feels cold metal.


Or something, set off by em dashes, adds to the tension. The reek of sulfur leaves no doubt that the odor is unpleasant. Bitter bile burns her throat—a more effective taste reference. Familiar cold metal changes to comforting cold metal, a tell that adds to the paragraph.


All filter words (heard, smelled, taste, see, felt) were traded for active replacements.


If you don’t know what filter words are, you can’t avoid them.


Let’s review a partial list of filters and their close relatives. I tried to classify them logically, although some words could appear in multiple groups.


See: appear like, become aware of, detect, discern, distinguish, give the impression of, identify, look, look like, note, notice, observe, perceive, realize, recognize, reveal, seem, sense, sight, spot, watch


Smell: detect the smell of, diagnose, get a whiff of, scent, smell like, whiff


Hear: catch, eavesdrop, overhear, listen to, sound, sound like


Touch: feel, feel like


Taste: appreciate, delight in, enjoy, like, relish, savor, take pleasure in


Know: ascertain, assume, believe, bring to mind, decide, deem, discover, gather, get, glean, guess, infer, intuit, learn, posit, regard, remember, suspect, think, understand, wonder


Experience: be subjected to, face, go through, live through, suffer, take in, undergo


Be able to: be capable of, be equal to, be up to the task, can, could, have the ability to, have what it takes to Continue Reading . .


Source: Filter words and phrases it’s best to avoid in writing fiction

42 thoughts on “Filter words and phrases it’s best to avoid in writing fiction

  1. Oooh. Heading over to see if there are any I can add to my “Word Police” list. 😀 Getting rid of these is such an easy way to instantly improve one’s writing. Tedious work, but so worth it! Thanks for sharing, Debby.


      1. I have a list of telling words, crutch words, lame verbs, and filler words that I search my stories for before I get into the final edits. I’m always looking for ways to tighten or invigorate!


  2. I always learn something here, especially tools to hone my writing craft. As I write, I use the delete button often to express the thought more precisely. Well, it’s a start.


    1. Thanks Marian. I’m glad you find my posts helpful. And you are a prolific writer so I don’t think you have much to worry about. 🙂 PS I’m still not getting replies to comments I leave on your blog, the reply gremlins seem to be at work. 😦


  3. Strong verbs matter and sensory detail. I’ve learned over time and catch it myself now before an editor gets a chance.


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