Monday, June 24, 2013

That Which Is Over Used

I read a lot. I know I've said this before. I'm also an author and know the struggle of describing actions, things, in dialog, etc. Since I've started writing I notice things in others' work, and my own in first draft form, that stick out. There are a few words to edit out as often as you can. This is all my humble opinion but blogs are the writer's opinion whether based in fact or not.

The most over used word to me is the word 'that'. Not in "He went that a way", but rather when the word doesn't really add clarification to the sentence.
'She was so close to exhaustion that she was starting to get sick.'
She was so close to exhaustion she was starting to get sick.
The 'that' isn't truly necessary yet we litter our narrative and dialog with it.

A way to avoid its overuse can be accomplished substituting 'who' when what 'that' is referring to is a person. It is also more grammatically correct.

Other substitutions are 'it' and 'the' as is 'so'. There are probably others also. It doesn't take much time and only a little thought to find a way to either eliminate, substitute or rearrange the sentence to avoid using 'that'.

Another word often overused when writing in third person is the word 'had'. As with 'that' often the word had can simply be eliminated. Care must be taken to be sure your tense isn't changed either in including 'had' or eliminating it.

As with most of our writing, taking time to be aware of these words will sharpen and improve our writing bringing it above the mediocre.

One caveat; If you are being paid by the word throw them in as often as you can.

Sophie Dawson writes Christian fiction. She lives with her husband and cat on a farm in western Illinois. Her Cottonwood Series novels have been Indie Book of the Day and Healing Love received first place in the genre in’s 2012 contest and a second in eLit 2012 contest.
Sophie blogs one a week on her website as well as in edition to
She has recently released her fourth and fifth books, Leah’s Peace and Chasing Norie.
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  1. How funny! I was going to write about "that" for my other blog soon. There aren't many times when "that" is necessary except when it's being used as a pronoun--and even then, sometimes it's not necessary. "The house that Jack built" is equivalent to saying "My mama she built a house." You don't need both the noun and the pronoun.

    Good post, Sophie!

  2. As a writer and editor, I've recently seen this idea presented with more and more frequency. One author told me that she is trying to remove ALL "thats" from her writing. In response, I just have speak up for the "thats." :) Take a look at this entry for "that": The reason we use it so much is because of all of the different functions the word has. And the example sentence above, with "that" (as a conjunction) removed, is a run-on sentence, introducing a greater grammatical error. Overuse of any word is a bad idea, but I'd like to argue on the side of "that." We should consider its vast versatility (as well as rewriting to avoid overusage) before declaring its exile. :)

  3. (And please know that my response is not only a response to your one post. It's a response to the trend to remove "that" in general. Your suggestions for rewriting are spot-on. :)

    1. You are right. It is a run on sentence and I hate them. Thanks for pointing it out.