Proofing Hit List Part Two: Over-Filtration

Since I’ve been in the middle of a big fat novel revision, I thought it might be time to talk about more items on my proofing hit list. These are the little (and biggish) things I try to fix and/or eliminate from my drafts before calling them done/final/ready for editing. If you’d like to see part one of this list, you can find it right here.

Let’s get to it:

1) Filter words. I overuse them, especially when I’m writing in third-person limited, which I do a lot. What’s a filter word? I think Michael R Emmert answered this question nicely in his article “An Introduction to Filtering” over at Scribophile. He says, “In writing, filters are unnecessary words that separate the reader from the story’s action. They come between the reader’s experience and the character’s point of view.” I agree, and you should definitely check out his article on the subject; it’s great.

For me, the filter words that crop up the most are feel, felt, saw, know, and knew. In the current draft of my novel, I nuked many instances of each one. There are other common filter words you might encounter in your drafts, stuff like believed, thought, heard, and watched. This is not to say that you should never use a filter word; sometimes they are absolutely appropriate. Again, I’ll refer you to Michael R Emmet’s article; he gives some great examples of when you probably should use a filter word.

Like many of the things on my proofing hit list, this point should not be taken as absolute gospel. It’s just the way I do things.

2) Sound-alike character names. It’s easy to do this without realizing it, especially when you’re making up names on the fly, but it can be confusing for the reader if two character’s names are too much alike. Case in point, the main character in my upcoming novel Flashpoint is Coleman Stryker, and at some point in the book, I added a secondary character name Sykes. They appear in a few scenes together, and it was (rightly) pointed out by my editors that it might get a little confusing, especially in dialog. Easy fix, though. I changed Sykes to Adkins with a global find/replace. Done.

It can help to keep a list of character names in your book to cut down sound-alikes. I have a little spreadsheet that lists all my secondary characters with a little background on each. It’s pretty helpful not just for removing sound-alike names but for keeping all the characters straight in your head so you don’t mix them up (which I’ve done, repeatedly).

3) Consistent spelling and styling. This one comes up a lot for me since I frequently write in a rich and well established IP not my own: the Iron Kingdoms owned by Privateer Press. The Iron Kingdoms are chocked full of specific names of people, places, and things, and it’s my job as a writer to make sure they are a) spelled correctly and b) properly styled (capitalized, italicized, etc.).

Let me give you an example. In my novel Flashpoint, I frequently mention storm knights (lower case), which is a catchall phrase to describe a number of knightly orders, including the Stormblades (capped) and the Stormguard (capped). As you can guess, I’ll often screw up with the capitalization or, frequently, use two words when it should be one, e.g., Storm Blade instead of Stormblade. Sure, the Privateer Press editors would probably catch this stuff, but I try to get it as close as I can. As a former editor, I certainly see value in making the editor’s job easier.

What items appear on your proofing hit list? Tell me about them in the comments.

6 Comments on “Proofing Hit List Part Two: Over-Filtration

  1. A big one for me, and one I often find by reading aloud, are orphan words (my term – maybe there’s an actual term that I should know about 🙂 ). These are words that get left behind when you rewrite a sentence that don’t belong anymore.

  2. As Online Content Producer for the Modesto Bee I, inadvertently, was often a second tier copy editor for the print product, catching mistakes before they went to print. I usually caught one to two items a week that made it through the copy editors. What I learned from this is that you can’t have too many eyes looking at your stories.

  3. Filter words have often bothered me, and I’ve railed against them when presenting writing workshops, but I never knew to call them until your posts on the subject. So, thanks for that.

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