Friday, November 25, 2011

Common Problems (Part 8 of 50)

Don't filter #1. Of all the principles I teach in writing, this seems the most difficult to grasp. I have not seen this in any writing book, and it's too subtle for those who aren't serious about improving their skills.

Let's start with the principle. When you are in the point of view (POV) of one person, you need to stay there, whether you write fiction or nonfiction. The tendency is to move outside the POV and become the observer of the action instead of the actor.

This shows when we use words such as saw, heard, observed, or noticed. Here's a simple example and the POV is first-person singular: I heard Allison sigh with contentment.

You have moved out of first person and have become the observer of the action. To remain in the POV, you would write: Allison sighed with contentment.

You couldn't hear the sigh unless you heard the sigh. If you tell readers you heard, you're no longer in the first person POV.

Here's a sentence in third-person POV: Anna could feel the floor shake as the opera chorus assembled on stage.

The writer jumped outside the female POV person and told us what Anna experienced. Better: The floor shook as the opera chorus assembled on stage. By describing what took place, readers are aware that Anna felt it.

Because I want to become an excellent writer,
I will avoid filtering.


  1. Okay, this one, I'm afraid, I don't understand. But thank you. Maybe if I keep reading this over again, it'll click.

  2. Adam doesn’t understand.

    That’s not a surprise. The don’t-filter rule seems one of the most difficult for writers to grasp. It’s one of the subtleties of English grammar.

    Think of it this way. I am in first-person POV. That means everything that happens in that scene comes only through my personal observation. I hear, see, smell, think, speak, or touch.

    SENTENCE: I walked down the road ten minutes before noon. I saw a large bus coming directly toward me.

    When I write, “I saw,” I have pulled myself out of first person and become the observer.
    That is, I moved outside the first person and told readers what “I” observed.

    To stay in first person, I would write:

    I walked down the road ten minutes before noon. A large bus came directly toward me.

    In this revision, I am still in first person. I tell what “I” see not what I observe.

  3. Yes, great reminders! One question though: how does the MC know Alice sighed "with contentment"?

  4. This is something new for me, too. It's a very subtle part of the craft, isn't it? Thanks for pointing it out, Cec.

  5. Sarah Elisabeth, that's a good question, and Cec isn't here to answer it. (He's in Kenya right now.) Maybe the MC could tell by the tone of the sigh or by the look on Alice's face that she was content. :-)

  6. What Cec is describing is Deep Point of View. Whether in 1st or 3rd person, the reader experiences everything the character does. Staying in one POV at a time allows the author to go deep into the feelings of the character without telling us. The POV character perceives the contentment in the sigh.

    Here's another example: Mary felt her ankle throb and knew she had broken it. She felt like her world had come to an end. She knew no one would come to find her. She felt the tears on her cheeks, but she didn't wipe them away.

    Mary sat in the snow with her ankle throbbing in pain. She managed to remove her skis and pulled her knees to her chest and hugged them. Her world had come to an end.

    She glanced skyward. No one knew where she had gone, so no one would come look for her. She'd die right here on this mountain. Tears coursed down her cheeks, but she didn't wipe them away.

    Maybe that will help.


What are your thoughts?