Tip #43: “That”

One of the toughest aspects of being a writer is trying to trim down a story, fictional or otherwise. Less is sometimes more.

This is hard to do because you are good at writing more. You put pen to paper and create words. Deleting the unnecessary words is counter-intuitive, but it must be done.

Here is a word you can edit out as you write: “that”.

“Hang on.” you might be thinking. “That, is a crucial part of our vocabulary. You can’t just stop using it.”

Not entirely, but you can place a severe restriction on how often it crops up without changing the meaning of your writing at all. And there is nothing wrong with putting “that” in dialogue.

Here is an example of how it works:

That was the first time I saw Mary Sue for who she really was, that she was not my friend at all. She was from that half-formed planet on the edge of our galaxy out of which all evil stemmed. It was her mission to destroy our world, and that was something I could not allow to happen.

Without “that”:

It was the first time I saw Mary Sue for who she really was, not my friend at all. She was from the half-formed planet on the edge of our galaxy out of which all evil stemmed. It was her mission to destroy our world, something which I could not allow to happen.

Every “that” has been removed, but the story has not changed. All it does is remove one more barrier between the reader and the meaning of your words. Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

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