Account Login

Blog Archives

Do a THAT return

Back in the mists of time, when I was working on my very first novel, I received my very first set of editorial notes. My new editor was generous with her praise and gentle with her suggestions for improvement but there was one thing about which she was unequivocal. ‘You use the word “that” far too often.’

Until then, ‘that’ was a word I’d rarely thought about.  I wasn’t aware I used it too often because I wasn’t really aware of it at all.  As a conjunction it was almost invisible. And since it was invisible, perhaps it didn’t need to be there.

Now, whenever I finish a draft of a novel I do what I call a ‘THAT return’.  Using search and replace, I go through the whole manuscript.  Some instances of ‘that’ are essential, obviously.  Some give a sentence a nice rhythm. But most of them are extraneous and cutting them out makes everything sharper and cleaner.  I use the same principle for my other pet words and phrases.  However. Suddenly. Alas…

Why not try doing a ‘THAT return’ on your own work in progress? I promise you’ll be astonished at just how many can go.

Find out more

Writing in a Spoken Voice

If you find the point of view in your stories tends to wander around the place (sometimes very…

Find out more

The Gap Between

I’d like you to do something very simple. Sit back, close your eyes, and try to remember an…

Find out more

Exploring different third person points of view

Write part of a story in the form of a scene from a play, beginning with a description…

Find out more

Subjective third person narrative

When I was a child, like most young readers I wanted to identify with the characters in books….

Find out more

Bringing Dramatic Action Into A Scene

The purpose of this exercise is to help us bring dramatic action to our scenes. Firstly we should…

Find out more

Inside the Shed

Sometimes we are really keen to tell our readers everything, to make sure that they understand what it…

Find out more

You don’t have to tell young readers as much as you think

There is sometimes an assumption that younger readers won’t understand what’s going on unless the plot and the…

Find out more

Emotionally Engage

If you think about plays you’ve enjoyed, that stay with you, and try and work out why they…

Find out more

Gas Ring – the game

A quick exercise to show the importance of writing high stakes for your characters when writing a play….

Find out more

Exaggerate to accumulate

This is an exercise in what the comedian Stewart Lee calls “exaggerating for comic effect.” He was being…

Find out more

Drawing out the comedy

Somebody famously said that writing comedy is harder than writing drama because in comedy you have to do…

Find out more


This website uses cookies to give you the best experience. Agree by clicking the 'Accept' button.