This week, I’ve invited my friend and very first critique partner, Kelley Harvey, on New Writer Wednesday to share her technique for engaging the reader, drawing them deep into characters and their world.
First, I need to express my utmost gratitude to my good friend, Lizzy Charles, for inviting me to be a guest on her blog. I’m so excited to be here.
(Yay! I’m so excited to have you Kelley!)
I’m a member of The Off Beats, a critique group of amazing ladies, coming together to support one another on this treacherous roller-coaster ride to published status. I’ve CP’d a few full manuscripts, along with many other papers, suckopsi (Lizzy’s word for synopsis, quite apt, I believe), and queries. I’ve learned a ton along the way. One of the most common notes I make on my Critique Partners’ manuscripts is ‘filter.’
Let me back up, for a moment, and ask you a pertinent question. As authors, what is your goal? Mine is to unite my audience with the character in such a way they aren’t just ‘reading a story’, they’re living it. As a reader, that’s what I crave as well. Help me see what the character sees, hear what they hear, and feel (physically and emotionally) what they feel. But do it in such a way that I experience it with the character, not just standing outside the window, looking in.
Most writers understand using all five senses makes their work realistic to readers who live everyday through their own senses. It’s the difference between:
Maggie ran from the witch’s flying monkeys one rainy night.
While rain ran into her eyes, Maggie stumbled as she pumped her legs harder. Over her shoulder, in the glow of the street lamp, the witch’s monkeys pulled in their wings, preparing to dive-bomb.
Both give you the same information, but one brings you into Maggie’s experience. The first sentence ‘tells’, the second ‘shows.’ Telling the reader what’s happening, but not showing them what the character is going through, leaves the reader separated from the character. Disconnected.
How can you fix this problem?
My suggestion is to remove as many ‘filter words’ from your manuscript as possible. What the heck are filter words? Filter words remind the reader that they aren’t really there, in the action, in the moment. Instead, they’re on the outside looking in.
Here are some examples from my book DEVASTATION.
A flag whipped in the wind, at least, that’s the sound I heard. As quick as I could blink, a pair of dark wings, the same as the guy in the water had, appeared behind Dad’s back. They flapped a couple of times; I felt their wind brush past me. I felt my jaw go slack.
As it is now:
A flag whipped in the wind. Dark wings, like my reflection, appeared behind Dad. My jaw went slack. As they flapped, their breeze stirred the dust and grass at my feet.
I decided to just go for it. So I whipped of my t-shirt, trying to not think about it, or I probably would’ve chickened out.
As it is now:
With shaky hands, I whipped off my t-shirt, before I could chicken out. Here goes nothing.
I felt his finger trace the top edge of my cami on my back.
As it is now:
… his finger whispered along the upper edge of my top, across my back, leaving a trail of heat imprinted on my flesh.
There below me, in the darkness of the cavern, by the light of a stream of fire spewing forth from its mouth, I saw the dragon.
As it is now:
Below in the darkness, a stream of fire spewing forth from its mouth, a dragon lumbered into the cavern.
Which ones brought you into the experience the most? By cutting the ‘heard’, ‘felt’, ‘saw’, and ‘decided’ portions, the reader can now be part of the action. They’re right there with the character, in the moment.
How do you rid your manuscripts of ‘filter words?’ Easy. Use your word processing program’s ‘search’ or ‘find’ function.
Search for these words:
Look, looked (as in, LOOK like… not necessarily the action of looking)
Realize, realized (You can SHOW your reader the character realizes something by the experiences the character has)
Wonder, wondered (In my opinion, it would be better to simply show the thoughts of the character, or figure out another way to express this if you aren’t showing thoughts.)
Decide, decided (when your character acts, the reader will understand that it was a decision)
Of course, as with all rules, this one can, and/or should, be broken in certain circumstances. Even I break this rule on occasion. Can you ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ without using filter words? Sure, but for the purpose of this blog post, we’re only dealing with filter words. So, make sure you search out all the other ways you may be coming between your audience and the full experience of your amazing story, and then remove them too. It will make your writing tighter and more enjoyable to your readers.