A Note on “Filters”

I’m a writing nerd, and I’m a sucker for books about writing. We’re reading How Fiction Works by James Wood in one of my grad classes, and thought it’s at the top of my reading level, I like it.

Wood talks about narration in the first section, and the difference between the author’s voice and the character’s voice. Is your story being told by the author, or is the character showing the story?

If writing were a jigsaw puzzle, this piece would fit into POV and Voice. What Wood is getting at, does your novel repeat phrases such as “he watched,” “she saw,” “he listened,” and “she knew?” These “flags,” as he called them, remind your reader that they are reading a book. It reminds them there is an author.

Is this bad writing? Not at all. It’s a note on how to make your character’s voice more authentic.

Example (mine): Jake watched the birds flutter over the freshly tilled corn field. He didn’t like birds, big or small, and wished they’d find another field to peck and caw.

In that example, I am telling you about Jake.

Example: The black birds landed in the freshly tilled corn field. Pesky rodents.

The main difference is in the “pesky rodents” comment. That is Jake thinking about the birds, not the author translating his thoughts for the reader.

Consider character voice – everyone talks a bit differently. Character A cusses. Character B doesn’t. Character C only cusses when around Character D. Everyone has a way of speak, a way of thinking, a way of processing information into spoken words, and that difference is what makes character voice. In good dialog, you should be able to remove all tags and descriptions and still know who’s talking from what they say.

There’s not right/wrong. It’s just a note. Both of the examples above work. It’s a matter of personal choice as a writer.


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