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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.

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