The Word That

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Reuben
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The Word That

Postby Reuben » Wed Jan 06, 2021 9:18 pm

I've found that "that" is a word I use often without thinking, yet the sentence reads well without it, and in published fiction it's usually absent. It seems like it's one of those words that you use to cut the "ten percent" (which is a book that I do plan on buying sometime in the near future).

For example: "He said that only I was to be spared." The sentence reads fine without "that"--"He said only I was to be spared."

Regarding uses such as these, do you always take it out? Is there a rule about it? Do you leave it in if the meaning would be confusing without it?

-Here are examples from my current story in which I am flummoxed:

"[they] long ago decided that only technology absolutely..." (If I take out "that", I'm afraid the decided-only juxtaposition will be confusing.)

"I look at him, startled that he spoke." (I'm pretty sure taking out "that" is confusing, but perhaps for the reader it's seamless.)

"...despite the fact that he cannot..." (Here, I think it should be taken out, but...)

Lastly, "[...she's] hinted to me that she considers me a candidate for the next generation." (I'm in the dark on this one.)

Any thoughts? wotf017
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
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disgruntledpeony
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Re: The Word That

Postby disgruntledpeony » Thu Jan 07, 2021 5:57 am

"That" is definitely a word you can cut--in most circumstances, but not all. When in doubt, it might be good to read a sentence aloud (perhaps in context of the larger paragraph, as well).

As far as editing in the above examples goes, my suggestions would be:

1) I'd remove "absolutely" instead of "that" in this example.

2) Cutting "that" here wouldn't confuse me.

3) The word "that" can definitely be cut, here.

4) In this example, I'd cut "to me" rather than "that".
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, ?

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RSchibler
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Re: The Word That

Postby RSchibler » Thu Jan 07, 2021 6:37 am

I do a CTL+F for "that" and a number of other words before submitting. It's quite frequently unnecessary.
V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: P

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Dustin Adams
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Re: The Word That

Postby Dustin Adams » Thu Jan 07, 2021 10:25 am

I have to agree with Liz about hearing it aloud. I'm pretty good about reading aloud in my head (did that make sense?). But I still do a final read-aloud with every story (in a different font than writing).

That said (haha), I believe "that" is more often properly in a sentence than it properly sounds. If I can't resolve it, then I rewrite the sentence to see if I can improve it. If not, I go back and keep "that" in there. I don't think you can just arbitrarily take it out without rewording things around it.

Strunk and White: Page 1. Omit needless words. Their biggest offender: The fact that.
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Reuben
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Re: The Word That

Postby Reuben » Thu Jan 07, 2021 10:30 pm

Thank you, everyone! And thank you Liz for the suggestions. Very helpful. Not to get on with the actual writing... wotf007

RSchibler wrote:I do a CTL+F for "that" and a number of other words before submitting. It's quite frequently unnecessary.


I'd love to hear what those words are, as well as anyone else's lists. (For me, currently, I think it depends on the story, but the only consistent ones I search "that" and "ly_". If those adverbs are regarding dialog tags, I usually try to switch it to an emotion-telling action.)
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,

RabenWrites
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Re: The Word That

Postby RabenWrites » Fri Jan 08, 2021 5:39 am

‘Had’ was my biggest offender. One short I wrote had had :smirk: something like 1% ‘had’s. Had is fine to use in an introductory sentence to anchor a flashback in its place and then rarely anywhere else.

In early drafts I personally don’t mind the ‘that’s and ‘had’s and ‘was’s or even the dreaded ‘ly’ adverbs so much. They’re there to fill the story in and they make for good flags of “this bit needs more work” for later passes. The first two of the examples, for instance, could the whole thoughts be expressed more actively? They both convey their thoughts successfully but do so superficially.

Imagine a chat-up line:

“I’m a very trustworthy date. I’m a good guy and completely safe. You should come over to my house tomorrow night.”

How comfortable would you be believing such an individual? Why?

Likely because his positive traits were told and not shown. (Insert Save the Cat lecture here.) Showing isn’t magically better than telling because the industry declared it so, rather it is what we as humans do. If you claim you’re the most humble individual in history, most people would believe quite the opposite, because humans are accustomed to believing actions more than words.

It’s the same with adverbs. “She said tiredly” isn’t bad because grammar says so, it’s bad because humans have centuries of conditioning in reading clues to tell if someone is tired, and aren’t used to being handed factual statements on a platter.

So it’s often not the ‘that’ that’s the problem, it may simply be a place where you the author are stepping in a bit too hard holding the reader’s hand and not letting them figure out what you’d like with context clues.

Compare
“‘I’m not actually mute,’ he said.
I looked at him, startled that he spoke.
He smirked.”
to
“I’m not actually mute,’ he said.
My head snapped up.
He smirked.”

The second example isn’t perfect by any stretch, but the ideas of ‘I looked at him’ and ‘I was startled’ and ‘his words were unexpected’ are all there for the reader to suss out without any need for authorial help.

And that is my take on ‘that’. :shrug:
V37 Q4 -SHM

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RSchibler
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Re: The Word That

Postby RSchibler » Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:34 am

I got my list from The Ten Percent Solution by Ken Rand.
V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: P

ALWAYS available for critique.

www.rebeccaetreasure.com

Reuben
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Re: The Word That

Postby Reuben » Fri Jan 08, 2021 12:08 pm

RSchibler wrote:I got my list from The Ten Percent Solution by Ken Rand.
wotf019

Reuben Previously wrote:(which is a book that I do plan on buying sometime in the near future).


Well, I guess that leaves me no choice...
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,

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RSchibler
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Re: The Word That

Postby RSchibler » Fri Jan 08, 2021 12:09 pm

I found it very helpful!
V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: P

ALWAYS available for critique.

www.rebeccaetreasure.com

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AlexH
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Re: The Word That

Postby AlexH » Fri Jan 08, 2021 2:50 pm

There are not that many that's in my stories. I don't always cut that's, but that's are a word that I look to cut.

There are not many that's in my stories. I don't always cut that's, but that's are a word I look to cut.

I have a list of possible cut words I check from an online article, but I can't find the source. I'm happy to send you the list though. It's a long one!

"Of" and "of the" are words I often find I can cut/reword too. E.g. "drank the last of the water" = "drank the remaining water" (6 words vs 4) or "I stare at the silhouette of the tree" = "I stare at the tree's silhouette" (8 words vs 6). I don't always reword these - sometimes I feel sentences need the variation, or I keep them for other reasons.
35: - R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: HM HM HM SHM

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disgruntledpeony
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Re: The Word That

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Jan 09, 2021 9:04 am

Benjamin Dreyer discussed the word 'that' from a copy editing perspective on Twitter, so I'm going to toss up the relevant quotes here:

Benjamin Dreyer wrote:This is why you should not always be in such a hurry to delete the word "that."

"Oscar Wilde felt Walt Whitman--"

I beg your pardon?

"--was the quintessential American poet."

Ahh.

"Oscar believed Bosie's father--"

Do what?

"--was the sorriest douchenozzle that ever lived."

Indeed.

"I spent all morning deleting the word 'that' and all afternoon replacing it." -- Oscar Wilde, copy editor


Essentially, while there are a variety of instances where it can safely be cut, there are also times it helps with sentence clarity.
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, ?

https://ticknortales.com/

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AlexH
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Re: The Word That

Postby AlexH » Sat Jan 09, 2021 1:16 pm

I aim for clarity with my writing but they read fine without the 'that' to me:

Oscar Wilde felt Walt Whitman was the quintessential American poet.
Oscar believed Bosie's father was the sorriest douchenozzle that ever lived.

Inserting the breaks in those examples artificially made me stop. I don't stop reading mid-sentence or read slow enough for those sentences to cause any kind of confusion.

As a copyeditor has said it, I will pay closer attention in future, though there must be all sorts of minor edits like this someone could be picky about that don't matter much?
35: - R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: HM HM HM SHM

Probably free for critique swaps, but double-check in case I'm away.

Mr H
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Re: The Word That

Postby Mr H » Sat Jan 09, 2021 3:17 pm

A necessary word, over used. (See what I did there? I hope that works ok.)

Had is one I also watch out for. "Had had" bugs me. Sounds like a far off city or such. "The soldiers of Had'had gathered around the fire."

Is like, like, another one? I could imagine younger writers filling up their stories with likes, if some teen shows and films are anything to go by. Thankfully I haven't seen it done...yet. Or maybe that's just how the writers see teens talking. Then again life imitates art. Full circle, as they say; Hey, there's Adric!
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

Reuben
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Re: The Word That

Postby Reuben » Sat Jan 09, 2021 4:52 pm

Yes, "like" and "as" as also words that I try to cut out. If I can change a simile into a metaphor, I do. And usually when there's a simile (e.g. "her eyes were as dark as night") I try to cut the first like or as (her eyes were dark as night).

Compare
“‘I’m not actually mute,’ he said.
I looked at him, startled that he spoke.
He smirked.”
to
“I’m not actually mute,’ he said.
My head snapped up.
He smirked.”


Good point with that. I have been critiqued for that--telling emotions as opposed to showing, Peony's emotion-telling link in the link thread has been helping me with that.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,


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