October 28th, 2016

How Filtering the Point of View Affects Show, Don’t Tell

Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Janice Hardy BooksReaders experience your novel through the eyes of your narrator. Sometimes this narrative filter is invisible and readers don’t perceive any distance between them and the point-of-view character, such as with a first-person point of view. Other times the filters are obvious and readers feel the space between them and the characters, such as with an omniscient narrator.

A point-of-view character by definition is relaying everything she sees, hears, feels, touches, smells, thinks—she’s already filtering for you; it’s just a matter of how obvious that filter is.

If a tree is described, readers know she saw a tree. Saying, “She looked at the tree” and then describing it is redundant at best, clunky and telling at worst. The filter words create a layer between the character and the reader you might not want.

Filter words are words that distance readers from the point-of-view character, and you often find them in prose using far narrative distance. These words can make the text feel detached. Filter words also remind readers they’re reading, explain things that are obvious, and often lead a writer into telling or crafting passive sentences.

Common filter words include: saw, heard, felt, knew, watched, decided, noticed, realized, wondered, thought, looked.

Filtering is one way writers control the narrative distance. How much of the point-of-view character’s experience is filtered can make the prose feel personal or detached. Using a large number of filter words can turn a shown scene into a told scene in no time at all.

The more filter words used, the higher the likelihood of the prose sounding told.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Bob could see three zombies shambling toward him.
  • Sally knew she had to get out of there.
  • I could feel the hard metal of the knife against my back.
  • Jane heard a scream from the hotel bathroom.

Each of these examples has a filter word in it, explaining what should be obvious by the rest of the text. If Bob mentions shambling zombies, clearly he saw (or heard) them. Odds are some other details in the scene will have suggested that Sally had to leave. Describing the knife as hard against your back can only be done if you can feel it. The one filter word that lives in a gray area here is the word “heard.” Unlike the others, “heard” doesn’t jump out and feel redundant, though it’s still filtering the sound of the scream through Jane’s ears.

Look at these same sentences without those filter words:

  • Three zombies shambled toward Bob.
  • Sally had to get out of there. Or better: She had to get out of there. (Using the pronoun makes it more personal, and more like an internal thought)
  • Hard metal pressed against my back.
  • A scream echoed from the hotel bathroom.

Nothing is lost, and now these sentences feel more active and in the moment. They have a sense of immediacy that eliminates that told feeling.

Some filter words are borderline tells that depend heavily on use, such as the wondered, realized, decided, noticed, type.

  • Bob realized he’d have to make a run for it.
  • Jane wondered if they’d make it out of there alive.
  • Sally decided they’d just have to jump and see what happened.
  • I noticed the car was missing.

These summarize the thinking and decision-making processes. You don’t get to see Bob realize running is his only option; you’re told he does. The author tells you what Jane is wondering; you don’t get to see her wonder in her own voice with her own concerns. Sally’s decision reads more like an afterthought than someone making a hard choice. If you suddenly noticed your car was missing, your reaction is probably going to be stronger than realizing you “noticed something.” The importance in this example is on the noticing, not the missing car.

Eliminate the filter words and you get:

  • He’d have to make a run for it.
  • Would they make it out of there alive?
  • They’d just have to jump and see what happened.
  • Wait—where was her car?

Without the filter words, the focus is on what is thought and decided.

However, sometimes you want that filter word if it’s important to draw attention to the act (the feeling, hearing, watching, realizing), or it sounds more dramatic with that filter—this works well for chapter or scene enders. You might also want more filters if you’re doing a far narrative distance or an omniscient narrator and want to create a detached, observer tone.

For example:

  • Bob watched the perimeter, eyes and ears alert for zombies.
  • Jane closed her eyes and wondered if any of them would survive until dawn.
  • I hoped for the best. Once in a while it worked out, right?

How much filtering you choose depends on which point of view you use and what narrative distance you’re pairing it with. An omniscient point of view with multiple point-of-view characters will likely have a lot more filtering as the narration floats from person to person. A tight point of view will typically have fewer filter words as everything is shown through the eyes of the point-of-view character.

Basically, ask yourself: Do you want to show more, or tell more? Then adjust your narrative distance and filter words accordingly.

For more on filter words, check out this earlier WITS guest post of mine on eliminating filter words for a tighter point of view.

How often do you use filter words? Do you have a preference?

Check out my new book, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting it), and learn what show, don’t tell means, how to spot told prose in your writing, and why common advice on how to fix it doesn’t always work. Also, please enter the Rafflecopter giveaway (look down below my bio).

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Janice

Janice HardyJanice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished DraftShe’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months.
Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

Show, Don't Tell Blog Tour

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Excerpted from Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It)

October 26th, 2016

3 Reasons Your Manuscript Gets Rejected by Agents

Sierra Godfrey

I am a reader. Yes, I read books, but I mean an agent’s reader. I read requested manuscripts. I read your requested manuscript.

Readers are one of the secrets of the industry—most agents utilize them as there are simply too many manuscripts and not enough pairs of eyes. Some agents use one or two, some use eight or ten. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about both sides of the business.

Here’s how it works: when you get a material request from an agent, that manuscript is read by several different people, including the agent. The overall consensus helps the agent decide whether to keep reading—and get to that no or yes quicker.

Being an agent’s reader has been illuminating, and I’ve learned several things already. But before I tell you what those things are, there’s something you need to know: just because we readers have thoughts on what isn’t working doesn’t mean that you’ll get a specific rejection naming what those things(s) are.

So here is what that rejection-speak could mean:

  1. You should have started your story at chapter 4.

This is the problem I see most often. The action in the first few chapters is slow, and I’m talking a slug-who’s-taken-Xanax-slow. But by chapter four, bang! The action really starts.

I know. I know. You need to set up your story, and you need those first four chapters! You also need to take some the energy that often resides in chapter 4 and pull it into the first chapter to create and build that tension right from the get-go.

Try this: take a moment to think over your first four chapters. Can you identify the break—where things really pick up? As an experiment, can you delete the material up until that point? Now, do you feel the difference in energy? If your characters can think back to earlier that day when things were calmer (and boring), and work that into the action, would that still be the same story?

  1. You whispered.

There are many beautiful and wonderful manuscripts out there. But the ones that really stand out are the ones with a terrific sense of voice. Those make you stand up and notice. You know this already, because you’ve been told a thousand times.

But what I am telling you is that agents see so many manuscripts that it’s mind-boggling, and the ones that stand out are the ones with a great voice. Does your story come alive right from sentence one? I don’t mean your work has to be stylized or contain a southern accent. But there should be a sense of atmosphere, tension, and personality.

If you struggle with this idea (and believe me, I know), then just remember that if you whisper, your work won’t get heard over the reams of other manuscripts in an agent’s inbox.

Try this: Rewrite a chapter in another point of view. If you wrote in third person, write in first person. If you wrote in first person, write in a stream of consciousness, as though your character was sitting across from you in a café and telling you his or her story as a friend. Does that change anything?

  1. You didn’t cover all your story bases.

Your prose is great; your mechanics are all there. But something’s missing. Plot! Structure! Everything hinges on it. Your characters will fall flat if there’s no underlying structure to carry them along. Be sure that your opening chapters aren’t just snapshots of your characters la-dee-dahing. There should be an underlying sense of SOMETHING that is ABOUT TO HAPPEN that will SHAKE YOUR CHARACTER’S WORLD. (Often, that something occurs in your chapter four. See above.)

Likewise, if you have structure and your writing isn’t clean, it will still fall flat. And so on.

What I see as I read is that everything ties together, and if you’re missing just one of those elements, your manuscript could earn a rejection. Readers and agents will sense there’s something missing, but they won’t be able to tell you what it is.

Try this: Match up your plot to the Save the Cat story beats, invented by Blake Snyder. There are actually a bunch of story structure formulas out there, but Save the Cat is simple (there are 15 total beats in a story) and clear. You can check those out on www.savethecat.com or get his book. I’ve also created a beat worksheet that you can download here.

If that’s too rigid for you, then how about breaking down your story into acts: Act 1 (the set up), Act 2A, Midpoint, Act 2b, and Act 3 (the finale). Are there clear acts in your story? Is there a sense of a clear break between acts?

Finally, a last word on submissions

The three problems above are the most frequent ones I see. But readers and agents really, truly are looking for a great read. Really! We want to read something wonderful and we’re pulling for you. If your query made it to the request phase, then you’re doing something right. I’m genuinely bummed when a manuscript doesn’t work for me, because I know the writer put in his or her blood, sweat, and tears into it. I know how hard writers book, because I am one, too.

Agents know that, too.  So we’re all pulling for you. Writing is hard. Story-telling is hard! You are valued, and your work is appreciated, whether it ends up getting you signed or not. That’s something that I finally got to see and understand as a reader, and I’m grateful.

What is the best or worst rejection you ever received? Do you have any tips to add to mine?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Sierra

Sierra GodfreySierra Godfrey writes fiction with international settings and always a mention of football (soccer) or two. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a quarterly contributor to Writers in the Storm. She writes weekly about Spanish football for various sports sites, and is also a freelance graphic designer. She lives in the foggy wastelands of the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Come visit her at www.sierragodfrey.com or talk with her on Twitter @sierragodfrey.

October 24th, 2016

4 Ways to Bring a Balanced Perspective to Your Support Team

Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold
Kathryn Craft

To navigate the gauntlet that is publishing today, your best strategy for success can be to embrace your new paradox: you are both artist and businessperson.


Because it’s not all business. Your publishing team is well aware that they would not have their salaried jobs without the creative talent that is willing to gamble for dollars in order to drive the industry.

Because it’s not all art. Oh they want your art, all right, but if truth be told, they’d rather not add one ounce of your artistic temperament to their business meetings.

Here are some strategies for achieving that all-important balanced perspective that will help your support team to thrive. Each one presents a new paradox.

1. Be both entrepreneur and team player.

No matter what path you took to achieve it, your decision to pursue publication meant that you were starting a home-based business. This is true in the eyes of the IRS and it will help if this also feels true in your heart. You are the author and therefore the brand; your story is now a product. And no matter how many times you tell yourself “I only want to share my story with others,” your publishing team will appreciate you getting on board with the fact that sale of your work is how you all intend to make money.

It therefore behooves you to understand the basics of running a small business as concerns record-keeping, budgeting, and the tax ramifications of your endeavor. Donning your role as sole business owner, ironically, will empower you to step onto the publishing team. You will see your agent, editor, cover designer, publicist, and marketing department for what they are: your business partners.

Too many authors feel sidelined in their own careers, saying things like, “I don’t know how my book is selling because I don’t want to bother my editor.” Um—why? If your publisher wants you on the sales team—and they do—you have a right to periodic sales numbers and whatever explanations you need to understand your contract and your royalty statement. You have a right to know where your agent is submitting your work and what kind of feedback your work is getting. Only by defending these rights can you be an effective part of your publishing team. 

2. Be both field marshal and herd dog.

Each member of your team has such an all-consuming role that they can forget they are on a team. Especially with a larger publisher, the right hand may not know what the left is doing. You are the lowest common denominator—without you, there wouldn’t be a team—so it’s on you to remind them.

Sometimes that will require you to get out front and take the lead. I needed to do this when my in-house publicist failed to achieve even one little piece of her ambitious PR plan for my second novel. As uncomfortable as it was, I had to get out front and act as field marshal: this is the new plan, and this is the support I expect from each of you to make it happen.

Other times, if you sense a member of your team lagging, it is best to herd from behind, calling to remind that you are awaiting edits or a cover concept or whatever. Ask to be apprised of the revised publication schedule. In the case of overdue services—unless you make the mistake of unleashing the full wrath of your artistic temperament—as long as you respect each member for the expertise each brings to the table, such “poking” is not an annoyance. It is simply gathering the information you need to best manage your time and contribution to the team. 

3. Be both enthusiastic and realistic.

Many writers pin up a mock cover for their manuscript that comes with “New York Times Bestseller” pre-affixed. There is nothing wrong with lofty goals! They can propel us through the muck and mire of workaday publishing. But we must also bring our A game to workaday publishing, and find value and joy in it, or we may never hit a list.

4. Let both emotional validation and data feed your sense of success.

A business person wants the data—how many books sold at the event, how many attended your Twitter chat, how many hits your blog or Facebook ad received. Such data may point to the most efficient use of your limited time and resources, but it will not tell the entire tale of your success. Your inner artist will feel successful as soon as readers email to say how your book moved them or opened their hearts. People do not forget books that touch them or excite them—they recommend them.

We must all start somewhere, after all, and not everyone will start at the top of their game. Use the feeling of success engendered by positive reviews to motivate your team to even greater heights.

It is a universal truth that everyone wants to play on a winning team. Set the bar high, with your inner artist holding one side of the bar and your inner business person holding the other—and then ask as much of yourself as you ask of others.

Do you ever feel torn between what seem to be conflicting roles in your publishing journey? How have you navigated such paradoxical moments?

To catch up with this series of posts, check out:

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Kathryn

art-of-falling1.jpgKathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks:10685420_966056250089360_8232949837407332697_n.jpg The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” will appear in the forthcoming guide from Writers Digest Books, Author in Progress, available now for pre-order.

Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she leads workshops and speaks often about writing.

Twitter: @kcraftwriter
FB: KathrynCraftAuthor

October 21st, 2016

How to Beat Your “Negativity Bias”

Tasha Seegmiller

Overcoming Negativity

When I was just starting on my writing journey, I attended a workshop where a children’s book writer and illustrator said something along the lines of, “If you like to do anything besides writing, do that.”

Writing is hard.

Writing takes grit.

But this is the case for lots of things in life. Parenting? Check. Marriage? Check. Quality friendships? Check.

And yet, there is something about creative endeavors that make them seem harder. I saw this when I was teaching high school English – students were much more comfortable writing research papers than writing about themselves. Why? Because that is a creation of self. I’ve never taken it personally when someone has told me I did a math problem wrong. Yes, I tried to reason through it, but my self-worth was not connected to my ability to solve that problem.

This doesn’t tend to be the case with writing though. Sure, a discussion of the nuances of grammar feels safe and logical and non-threatening. But if someone mentions not liking a character I made – one who I wanted to be likable? I must be a hack, a fraud, what-the-heck-am-I-thinking-trying-to-be-a-writer?

When the waves of self-doubt settle, then comes the berating of letting myself talk to myself that way. I know better. Mind over matter. And other self-love jazz.

The reality of reality is that we are programmed with a psychological and physiological predisposition toward negativity bias. Daniel Kahneman explains that “The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news. By shaving a few hundredths of a second from the time needed to detect a predator, this circuit improves the animal’s odds of living long enough to reproduce.”

That bad review that you got? It’s going to linger longer than the good. Your fear of someone hating your book before it even comes out? Not all the way your fault.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to dismiss this lingering evolutionary trait just because you know it’s there. And if you have a long-lasting memory like me, even things from DECADES ago and creep back in, agitating the flight-or-flight response and derailing productivity.

So what’s a writer to do?

A couple things.

1. Take some time to really get to know yourself.

How do YOU deal with the stress of negative feedback? Is it there and gone? Do you have physical side effects? Does it provide motivation for you to do even more and prove all the idiots wrong or will that one whisper of dislike send you in a spiral of fear-based procrastination?

Just like the ice cream in the freezer at ten o’clock at night might be kryptonite for some and a non-factor to others, keeping accessibility to these things that might trigger you IS something you can control. You don’t have to open the freezer for a midnight snack, and you don’t have to open review sites to read what people say about your book.

2. Get yourself a support team.

Ideally, your support team will develop into three groups: people who are working toward the same thing as you, people who are ahead of you on the publishing journey, and people who are behind you on the path toward publication.


You need someone to commiserate with when you get the rejection. And the next one. And the next one. You need someone who you can send a screen shot to when the rejection comes back as:

I’m not interested in this story.

Send from my iPad

(true story from my querying experience)

You need someone who is ahead of you so they can be the voice of keep going, and that is normal, and it’s worth it, I promise. You need someone who can send you pictures of their ARC and promotional material to remind you of the goal and the victory following the trenches.

You need someone behind you so you can see how far you’ve come. I have attended the same writing conference every year for five years, but about two years ago, I realized I had shifted from a person there to pull in as much knowledge and advice as I could to someone who could give some.

3. Keep track of the good.

I still have the emails from my beta readers. Why? They start like this:

“Wow. Just… wow, Tasha. What a beautiful story! And your writing style. Sigh. I was enraptured from the first word.”

And this:

“TAAAAASHAAAAA! I loved your book! Like, loved it so much I kinda went through sections where I didn’t offer much crit because I got so sucked in!”

You’d better believe after the “Send from my iPad” rejection, I went back to these. I needed to remind myself that other people HAD liked my writing, that these other people were further on the path than me, knew more than me, and believed in me.

I recently did a “mock reading” where I pretended like my book was out and I read from it for five minutes to a captive audience also charged with critiquing. The comments I got back were strong, good, encouraging, and I’m putting all of them in an Evernote file for future reference.

I think we’re all aware of the amount of positive it takes to overcome negative. It is up to us to acknowledge when negativity is creeping in, and it is up to us to work toward defeating it. Because chances are decent, when you thought if there was anything you’d rather do besides writing, in the back of your mind, you answered no.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears.

She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine (Write On!), where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

October 19th, 2016

Why I Still Participate in NaNoWriMo (After 8 Years and a Book Contract)

Jamie Raintree

I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month event in 2008. I had never written a novel before and had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’d always loved a challenge. Up until then, I’d only ever written short stories, and any previous novel attempts had stopped at the very pathetic amount of about 5,000 words. I think mostly it was naivety that made me do it. I had no idea what it took to write 50,000 words, let alone 50,000 words in a single month. My ignorance was indeed bliss, and I signed up for that challenge and I wrote those 50,000 words and I kept writing until I finished the book.

I’ll always be thankful to NaNoWriMo for one very big reason: it taught me that anyone really can write a book. No anointment required.

It’s been 8 years since I could first call myself a novelist, and I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve finished two more books and am working on the next. I got an agent with one of those books. And this year, I signed my first book contract. (Yes–my debut novel started as a NaNo project!)

One might say I no longer need the challenge of National Novel Writing Month.

And one might be right.

But that hasn’t stopped me from signing up for my 8th time.


It never fails–every year, when the temperature starts to drop, my subconscious knows that NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. I start setting my affairs in order for the month that I will be more or less dead to everyone who isn’t doing word sprints with me.

It’s not as easy as it once was to commit to NaNoWriMo, now that my schedule is not my own. I did have to skip 2014 because I was in the middle of edits on Perfectly Undone for my agent, and seeing everyone else letting loose with their novels while I sat woefully on the sidelines just about killed me. It convinced me that as much as it was in my power, I wouldn’t skip it again.

My passion for NaNoWriMo may seem a little disproportionate for an online challenge where you win basically nothing for hitting your goal (except, of course, 50,000 words on your work-in-progress and some nice writerly coupons), but here are just a few reasons why I’m a committed Wrimo…


Writing in StarbucksI cannot stress this aspect enough. People who have never participated in NaNoWriMo think that the challenge is about hitting a certain word count. It’s not.

What NaNoWriMo is really about is the energy of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world chasing the same goal together. The NaNo forums are abuzz with excitement and caffeine 24/7. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chatted with other Wrimos well past midnight, cheering each other on to hit our word count goal for the day. I’ve even met some of my best friends at Write-In events.

There’s simply no way to describe the electricity you feel of being so deeply tapped into the writing community. You have to experience it for yourself.


While community is the best part of NaNo, those high word counts are still priceless. It never ceases to amaze me when I look at my stats and see numbers like 15,467, or 25,008, or 42,124. In a matter of weeks! I know I’m capable of producing these kinds of word counts any other month of the year, but without the energy of NaNo, it’s much harder for me. I love stepping back at the end of the month and realizing that I have an almost complete draft. It may need a lot of work, but I know so much more about my characters and my story once I’ve completed the challenge that all the future revising is worth it.

Whether you hit 50,000 words or 10,000 words, the motivation produced by NaNoWriMo will have you impressing even yourself. You’ll accomplish writing feats you never thought possible.


Now that I have two kids in school, articles to write, workshops to plan, and deadlines to hit, it has never been harder to tap into my story. I get a solid 1-2 hours of writing in every weekday, but as soon as I close my computer, my mind is back on my to-do list and I’m off racing to the next thing. Yes, the book gets written, but I don’t as often get to experience that thrill of the days when I would be unable to fall asleep because my characters had something to say, or I’d wake up with a plot issue resolved and I’d jump out of bed to write it down. My mind is simply spread too thin. During November, though, I set aside as many of my other responsibilities as possible (unfortunately, the kids still have to eat), and I eat, sleep, and breathe my characters.

That kind of connection to story is what we writers live for. But how often do you feel that immersed on a day to day basis?


Sitting down on November 1st and staring a 50,000 word goal in the face feels impossible. No matter how many times I do it, it overwhelms me every year. It’s like running a marathon–who actually does crazy things like that? Well, we do. Just writing a book is a crazy, impossible thing and yet, we do it over and over again. Because there’s nothing quite like the high of an amazing writing day, and NaNoWriMo is a month full of days like that. Crossing the finish line, tired and delirious with effort, is a feeling like no other. Because you know you did something most people aren’t brave enough to even attempt.

And celebrating with your NaNo community afterward makes the win that much sweeter.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? If you’re a seasoned Wrimo, what are your favorite aspects of participating?

*  *  *  *  * *

About Jamie

Jamie RaintreeJamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads