Whenever I learn a new writing rule, I go through a process to incorporate it into my work:
1. Skepticism – I read in Self Editing for Fiction Writers that you shouldn’t use “, gerund” in your writing. My first thought was, “I do that all the time, so the authors of that book must be mistaken.” Example: The character stared at the sky, wondering if…
2. Acceptance – The more I thought about it, the more I gradually began to agree with them. I still think the technique is okay sometimes, but my default is now: The character stared at the sky and wondered if…
3. Working to Incorporate It – At first, I had to look for places where I had done it incorrectly and make the correction.
4. The Wrong Way Starts to Stand Out – As time went on, the incorrect version stood out more and more to me. I didn’t have to look for it. As soon as I typed it wrong, I’d hit backspace and correct it.
5. Internalized – Now, I don’t even have to think about it; I automatically type “and” instead of the comma.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with my writing, but there’s one technique that would take it to the next level if I could just manage to internalize it – Filtering.
Filtering refers to the process of channeling everything that happens in your book through your POV character. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
The wrong way is as follows:
Joe watched the bird fly across the sky.
Joe heard the water plunging from the cliff and splashing onto the rocks below.
Joe smelled the odor of fresh baked bread wafting from the inn.
Joe is your POV character. In most cases, Joe watched (or heard, or smelled, etc.) simply is wasted words that give no emotional context. The bird flew. The water plunged. The odor wafted.
The correct way:
Use filtering to give an event emotion and context.
Take, for example, this:
With great fanfare from the accompanying trumpeter, the soldiers unfurled the flag on the pole. Its gold squares on a black field stretched over the land.
A flag unfurled. Great. What should I feel about this? What does it mean? Why is it in my story?
A sounding trumpet drew Durloc’s gaze to the top of the parapet. His heart soared as the soldiers unfurled the flag. Under that banner, we shall rule them all, he thought.
At the sound of a trumpet, Seraius looked to the top of the parapet. The filth that called themselves soldiers proudly unfurled their garish flag. He clenched his fists. This shall not stand, he thought.
Instead of worthless words that tell me nothing about the story, I have paragraphs that engage the reader and set up the conflict that is to come.