Delete that unnecessary “That”

Imagine clutter. Now imagine it in writing. Who wants to read wordy sentences? No one. And no, I don’t mean “no one” as in Arya Stark or the Faceless Men. I mean no one as in your readers.

There’s one easy way to change this. It may be a little tedious, but it’s good to do it before you start your final – final – editing phase.

Here’s what I do. Once I’ve finished writing and have done a quick edit, I go to “find all” and type “that” into the search bar of my manuscript. Then I sift through that bottomless pit of a list and delete the word “that” wherever I can. Sentences become much more memorable when they are condensed. Wordiness is a sign of an unsure writer. Don’t be trigger happy on that delete button though. Sometimes a sentence needs the word “that” for clarity.

Let’s take a closer look at a section of my prologue. Can we delete both, or should we keep one for clarity?

Captain Inglehart adjusted his stance. The cane lifted off the pavement and dipped back down. “If I give you half upfront, then I need some kind of insurance that you’ll show up.”

“Name it.” There was a hint of desperation in James’ voice that he was sure the captain noticed.

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue

I could probably get away with deleting the first “that,” but I’m going to keep it for clarity and also because I feel that it keeps in line with Captain Inglehart’s overall voice. The second “that” was unnecessary and has since been deleted.

Do you think that I should keep the first? Mayhaps it’s fine for you, but for someone who strives to be a minimalistic writer, I don’t think that it’s necessary.

This is my way of becoming a minimalist, and I’ve found that it really helps clean up my manuscript before I begin that long, long, final edit. I think it’s hard to find “that” when you’re re-reading your manuscript as a whole. It doesn’t jump out at you as a spelling error would. Singling out known problematic words works well for me, but maybe it’s not your thing. What are some things you do to declutter your manuscript?

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