Modern fiction tends to force itself into absurd positions. The writers thereof cling to a philosophy that is ultimately insupportable: a pretense that they aren’t writing words on a page that tell a story. At some level, modern writers actually believe they are creating worlds that can be experienced with the senses. As an extension of their human frailty–that is, their lack of godlike powers–they then place limits on the way their audience will experience their worlds. Readers must only view these mini creations through 1st- or 3rd-person limited perspectives. Because of their frailty, the powers that exist at the top of the pyramid in publishing and in creative writing programs have written a Constitution of Rules for All Writers to Follow, Lest Point Of Most Holy Restricted View be Violated.
In order to avoid violations, writers undestand they must never use sentences that are too declarative or knowing. Their narrators aren’t gods and, therefore, there are many facts of the story-world that they will opine about, but that they couldn’t possibly know with absolute certainty. So they hedge with weak words such as “feel” or “seem.” After a while, though, the text slips from grasp like water because it’s seeming rather than being. It seems there is a story with facts and such, but it’s difficult to tell, really, when one gets down to it. How does one tell after reading a book whether anything exists at all? One pinches oneself and is still unsure.
Those at the top of the pyramid have been roused from sleep to add a few amendments to the list of rules. New Amendment 1: Thou shalt not use words that filter the necessary sensical experience for your readers (e.g. seem, feel, look, hear, see). New Amendment 2: This amendment reinforces the pre existing rule of thou shalt not use declarative sentences because neither you nor your narrator is a god. New Amendment 3: Thou shalt use declarative questions aimed at the reader, for the purpose that the reader will believe he/she is the one asking the question (e.g. Why did those pimples have to infest her chin right before her police academy graduation
, wondered Stacey? Her fellow cops would never take her seriously now!)
This author, although she is no rule follower, decided she should check her own text for filter words. No, I decided I would do that. I’m only schizophrenic on Fridays, and today is Saturday. I checked and found a handful of filter words here and there–not too many. Look turned out to be a troublesome word in my text, yet often necessary for orientation. I cut out about half of them and probably left my story a mess of awkward phrases. To be honest, I was quite pleased with myself, having so few seem and feel and touch type words–not because I’m a rule follower, mind you, but because….I want my story to contain strong language? Yes, that’s the truth!
But then I read a blog post, in which somebody had added know to the list of filter words to avoid at all cost. Didn’t that defeat the point, though? The point is to never allow that anybody knows anything because we’re trapped in limited perspective boxes where no god dares to tread. Sigh. I threw know (and then knew–darn those irregular past tenses) into my global search function. Imagine my astonishment when I discovered I had used versions of this verb over 500 times in my less-than-300 page book.
Apparently, I do, after all, have a god complex. I believe I know things. I’m obsessed, in fact, with knowing things. And owing to my obsession, my characters also believe they know things. Or they really want to know things because they don’t know what they need to know to survive in this world I’ve created for them. As soon as they know things, they’ll be all right. I’ll be all right. We’ll all be able to breathe a little easier before we step out into traffic.
It seems I’ll be cast from polite writer society now. I removed as many knowings as I could from my text, but I couldn’t throw them all out. I didn’t want my characters to panic. This whole debacle of filtering has made me feel a little iffy about my place in the writing world. I need to hear voices and touch people, if not look up from my computer to truly see them.
The bells are dinging. The food on the stovetop sends an acrid smell to my nose. The shouts of laughing children fill the air. I run my hands through my tangled hair. I taste fear at the back of my mouth. And I am done. I am done. For now anyway.