Streamline Your Writing: Cut Out “THAT”

That Darn Cat, Melchior, reading my newspaper

While doing edits for my forthcoming novel, A Sky Without Stars, I learned my publisher discourages the use of the word THAT. I had no idea I’d used this innocuous word so many times!
Writing Tip for Today: How do you get rid of a word such as THAT?

  • With or Without You. The fastest test for the necessity of THAT in a sentence is to write  or say it with the THAT and then without it. The rule is, if the sentence still makes sense, you can safely delete the word THAT.
  • What about Dialogue? Is it OK to use “that” in dialogue? I’d say yes, most of the time. Although it’s easy to overpopulate your writing with too many “thats,” a character may well say it and it will speak to the character. “To be or not to be? THAT is the question,” Hamlet’s famous example, wouldn’t be the same without the THAT.
  • Find Substitutions. In my novel, the editor substituted the word “it” for many of the “thats.” While I thought such an extreme was perhaps unnecessary, in some cases the text read a bit smoother. So instead of “That was her biggest dilemma,” the editor rewrote to “IT was her biggest dilemma.” Not every publisher is quite so strict, but reducing the use of “THAT” (and other filler words) should help you tighten and streamline your prose.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Streamline Your Writing: Cut Out “THAT”

  1. This post got me excited because I had the same problem with these two words, ‘just’ and ‘had’. It’s funny how writers think the same because in trying to solve the problem, I did so using ‘With or without you’ and ‘What about dialogue?’ I guess I could add your third recommendation to my list as well.

    It was nice reading this. It takes the pressure off knowing you’re not alone in the struggle. 🙂

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