Our final topic is filters and embedding your reader fully in each scene’s point of view character.
One of the things that makes a story truly enjoyable is the ability to get lost in it. An embedded point of view character, one that the reader can step into easily, goes a long way toward keeping their interest, and helping them fall in love with your world. “Filtering” is leaving subtle, (or sometimes not so subtle) inadvertent reminders on the page that there is a character between the reader and the action, that the story is being told through someone. It almost always jerks the reader out of the character and lessens the embedded quality of the story.
Reminding the reader that they are not inserted into the world with author intrusion and heavy-handed character filters breaks the illusion. Suddenly, the reader can see through the magic act. The veil is lifted, and the puppeteers are in full view of the audience.
Basically, it spoils the show.
How do we accidentally point out the character? Usually it is with sensory detail that is filtered instead of handed to the reader as if they were the p.o.v. character in that particular scene.
So, if Joe the Barbarian is stalking the goblin horde through the mountain pass, you could say:
“Joe heard rocks crunch under marching feet ahead. He felt a cold wind against his skin, and he heard the distance booming of goblin drums.”
But if you remove the filters, you amp up the tension and increase the embedded character:
“Rocks crunched under marching feet. A cold wind sliced against his skin, bringing the distant boom of goblin drums.”
We don’t need to be told that Joe is hearing and seeing and feeling things if the author has done a good job of embedding us in the point of view character. (we know who Joe is, we know what he wants, now we can ‘be’ Joe.)
An ever more heavy-handed version of the filter than sensory input, is when we have the character “notice, or realize, or know” on the page. If the reader has embedded fully in your point of view, then these intrusions are particularly jarring.
Joe eyed the sky. He noticed the clouds had grown darker indicating a storm was on the way. He knew the mountain passes in this region could be treacherous in a storm and, realizing he hadn’t brought his tent, began to search for shelter.
Joe eyed the sky. The clouds grew dark and swollen, gathering for an impending storm. The passes in this region could be treacherous in a storm. He had no tent, and began to search for shelter.
Another filter that usually gets unlearned fairly quickly is overuse of a character’s name. Again, this tends to remind the reader over and over that the character is separate, and pushed them out instead of drawing them in.
Even if you are writing in third person, the goal is for the reader to embed in your characters. Whichever head you are using for a particular scene, keeping that p.o.v. as deep as possible, will keep the reader deeply into the story as well.
Filters are just one simple-to-fix way that we can push the reader out of embedding without even realizing it. They keep the story at arm’s length, when most readers really want to climb inside and go along for the ride.
Examples of deepening the experience:
She felt the silk whisper against her skin. The silk whispered against her skin.
She heard him laughing at her. He laughed at her.
The snow, Bill knew, would make them late. The snow would make them late.
These are tiny tweaks, and not hard to do, but they do slip past us easily if we aren’t actively searching them out. And the tiny changes over the course of a whole manuscript, can really bury the reader in action and character.