Assuming you’ve already accomplished a strong plot, strong characterization (with believable and flawed characters readers can empathize with), realism, dialogue that counts, etc., there are a few smaller areas that, when tightened, can strengthen your fiction.
Filter Out Those Filter Words
A few months ago I kept hearing the term “filter words” and while I somewhat understood what these were, I never really knew they had a name. Filter words are those that needlessly filter the reader’s experience through a character’s POV (point of view).
Let’s look at an example: Lisa felt cold. Here, a filter exists between me (the reader) and Lisa which ultimately decreases immediacy. When I’m reading, I don’t want to feel like a narrator is telling me about Lisa; I want to be in Lisa’s shoes, seeing/feeling/hearing everything she does. Lisa pulled her coat tight, shuddering against the cold. Now without that filter, or layer, blocking me from the action, immediacy returns.
It’s natural to include filter words. From the moment we start reading and writing, we use them (Sam sees a cat. The cat looks sad. Sam hears the cat purr.) and often those habits are the hardest to break. I’ve come to accept that filter words will sneak into my first draft (admittedly, a lot of them), but I’ve made it part of my editing routine to get rid of them.
Here’s a list (which I compiled from various writing websites over time) that I use during the editing process:
v felt/felt like
v sounded/sounded like
(I tend to write in past tense, but if you’re writing in present simply change the tense then spend a day with your FIND button.)
Echoes, according to K. L. Going in her book Writing and Selling the YA Novel, are “words unnecessarily repeated in close proximity.” Generally, echoes are easy to spot and fairly effortless to remedy. An example would be this: “The dog barked incessantly. Megan shouted at the dog from her window.” The dog is an echo so you’d want to come up with another way to creatively reword the sentence(s). Here’s the example again without the echo: “The barking made it impossible to sleep. Fatigued, Megan shouted from her window, “If I fail tomorrow’s test, dog, it’s your fault!” (Not only was the echo eliminated, the dialogue brings the sentences to life.)
Are there other filter words you look for when editing? What else do you do to strengthen your fiction?