That’s one word we don’t need

scissors-editOne of the things that hit a nerve when I wrote that most popular post of mine on editing (that’s One word at a time), was the culling of certain redundant words, such as really, rather, just, quite, very, oh, so, well and suddenly.  That came to mind when I realised the other day, on reading Amanda Bumgarner’s excellent post on eliminating word overuse, that I’d left one important word off that list.  Yes, you guessed it – the word… that.

When you turn your mental volume dial up on that little word, that’s when it starts to jump out at you, from every line and every paragraph.

That is one of those words that stutters into our sentences without our even noticing.  How insidiously it sneaks in and takes up residence, unloved and unwanted.  I think that if I counted up the number of times that that appeared in my novel, that that would be as revealing as it would be painful.  That, I know, is something that I could not bear to do, and that’s an end of it.

So that’s the point that I want to make, that that is one of those words that is almost always surplus to requirements – and that should be enough to encourage you to consign that word to the literary equivalent of the cutting room floor.

And that’s all I’ll be saying on that matter.

15 thoughts on “That’s one word we don’t need

  1. It’s really rather just quite, oh! I don’t know. I find that people use these words in conversation, and if one writes dialogue, it’s hard (for me) to know if one is meant to “heighten the language” or use these words as in a true-to-life dialogue.

    1. Funny! But you’re right, we all use these words all the time. They exist for a reason, but writers need to deploy them with care. Too often, and they leap screaming off the page. Dialogue especially is tricky, and achieving a coherent, fluid style without sacrificing authenticity is not easy.

    1. I’ve learned (that) it’s so important to do the detail work – to go down to the ‘one word at a time’ level. We need words like ‘that’ (they would not exist otherwise), but the chances are (that) we don’t need them as often as we believe. It’s worth the effort of doing the cull, believe me.

  2. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work to me. When I go over a piece at times I will find the same word reused and I have to engage my brain to figure it all out. Like work. That God for me it takes no effort at all to swear. I don’t even have to think about it.

    1. It is a lot of work! I think of it like painting a room. The first draft is the undercoat. Then you refine when you add colour, layer after layer, different shades to the walls, ceiling and paintwork. The word-by-word edit is like going around the window frames with a scraper, to remove all those careless brushmarks that made it on to the glass, smoothing out where you accidentally left fingerprint or a dribble in the wet paint. It’s the painstaking detail work and it’s undoubtedly tedious, but without it the finish is just a bit scruffy. Good to hear from you again, by the way… I wondered if you were taking time-out from WordPress for Thanksgiving!

    1. It’s quite a process, isn’t it? Every time I go back to my ‘finished’ product, I find something else to change, another naughty word to delete, a repetition to eliminate… never ending.

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