Monday, September 19, 2011

An Extraneous "That" Execution

I'm going to say a dirty word.

As a librarian I'm accustomed to ignoring "a," "and," & "the." It's part of the Dewey rationale. As a writer, I'd love to add "that" to the list of words we just don't need.

Self-editing is not easy. If you haven't heard the phrase "kill your darlings" in connection to it, allow me to remedy the situation:




All those words your brain birthed onto the page during hours of torturous imagination-vomit will now be exposed to intense scrutiny under the harsh light of your red pen. Or at least, they should be. And guess what you gave birth to multiple times without even knowing, in groups of octuplets that then spawned on their own, creating a massive word count weight that will sink your ms into the depths? A nasty, four-letter word called THAT.

You don't need it. Some spur of the moment examples:

She thought that pink was a good color.

He knew that there was no way Sharon would go out with him.

Now check out these sentences:

She thought that pink was a good color.

He knew that there was no way Sharon would go out with him.

When I self-edited my first ms I kept a tally of my kills. I use it as a reference now when doing edits on other ms's, and it's proven priceless. How many extraneous "that's" did I execute on that first ms?


Yup. Literally a page and a half of useless words - without paragraph breaks or tabs. 639 pointless words clogging up my ms and showing any agent or editor exactly how inept I am at using the English language efficiently.

Arm yourself with red ink, exercise your delete key finger, and jump in with blood on your mind. That's the best way to hunt them down. They can be sneaky, your darlings.


Masako Moonshade said...

I'll argue there's some sentences that make more sense and flow better, but those are few and far between.

I looked up my own abuse of the word. My count? 928.

I'll get to work weeding them out.

Anonymous said...

Good tip!

I feel so pleased with myself when I eliminate that's. I use, which really helped train me to look for all these fluffy words.

Cassie Mae said...

I too am a victim of that nasty word. (It was okay to use it just now right?)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Masako - there are absolutely times when you need it. For example - "Look at that!" Somehow, "Look at!" doesn't quite work :)

Tamara - I haven't heard of autocrit, but I'm going to hit it up now.

Cassie - Yep, your "that" was legal :)