Until I joined AbsoluteWrite, I had never heard of the writing term “filtering” before. But it turns out to be a technical term for something fairly simple in creative writing.

She saw him cross the street and approach.

He looks and sees her weave in and out of the crowd.

The children notice that their toys are missing.

None of those sentences are noticeably weird, right? There’s nothing glaringly wrong about them.

Filtering is when you place a character between the detail you want to present and the reader. 

In other words, filtering is distancing the detail or image from the reader. I tend to do this in first drafts (and, ahem, maybe in parts of third drafts…), usually when I can’t think of a way to introduce something in a more graceful way. I’ve noticed filtering more now that I know what it is, usually in third person POVs.

It was pointed out in several posts on AW that filtering can come across as lazy writing because, duh, in 3rd person POV, it should be obvious who the viewpoint character is. Therefore, if, say, a woman happens to be in a cafe or something and looks out the window and sees the guy she despises crossing the street and coming toward the same cafe, then obviously, she sees him.

Therefore, no need to say, “She saw him cross the street.” Edit. Just write: “She gritted her teeth because Danny was crossing the street, his stride leading him to the door of the cafe.”

This way, the reader sees him crossing the street, too, instead of watching her watch him cross the street. Get it?

Filtering aids in that old adage of “show, don’t tell.”

Here are some good sources on “filtering:”
An Introduction to Filtering

So, have you heard of filtering? Do you do it?

2 thoughts on “Filtering

  1. I seem to like to filter. I noticed it pretty bad a couple of stories ago, and since then it's gotten a LOT better. I think everything has it's place, but I was using it almost every sentence. That's a really good example. I definately have to watch for it a lot more in third person. It drove me crazy in my last story that my characters were always looking at things! It's one of the main things I had flagged to look for (look, haha) in my revision notes, too.


  2. My characters are always looking at things, too. Craziness. I don't know that filtering is necessarily something a lot of writers know about. I certainly didn't notice it until I learned about it at AW…and I still do it when I'm not careful!


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