That Isn’t Essential

What isn’t necessary?

That. The word. It is overused and often used incorrectly in fiction writing. Most 55-60K word manuscripts I edit that is used at least 500 times often closer to 900.

Well over the amount necessary.

Are you aware you can omit 95% of them in your manuscript?

Why? How? You ask.

Fiction, good fiction writing thrives on active voice and use of sensory details. The word that tells instead of shows. It is passive voice. It slows the pace.

Here is a simple rule to follow when determining whether or not to use the word that. It (that) is exclusive. It is used in conjunction as a single item being taken from a group. Examples: I want that steak closest to the case glass. I need that book in your hand, not the one you gave me.

Authors argue many are used in dialogue. They believe taking out that isn’t possible. However, it’s quite easy.


“Ah, you poor thing,” she said.

“Was that sarcasm?” he replied.

“Me, no, I’d never use that.”


“Ah poor, baby,” she said.

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you,” he retorted.

“What?” She lifted her hand to her chest, cocked her head, and feigned a hurt expression. “All my friends say my wit is one of my best traits.”

Notice the dialogue is more engaging and we find out something about the female character. Using that wasn’t necessary in the dialogue above.

Another EXAMPLE:

A lock of blonde hair covered her hazel blue eyes that glimmered in the moonlight. He pushed back that offending strand and ran the back of his hand down her cheek. The thought that he wanted, no needed to nibble on her Brandywine colored lips punched him in the gut. That this woman turned him inside out like no other was a mystery that he needed to solve and move on.


A lock of blonde hair covered her hazel blue eyes, glimmering from the moonlight. He pushed the offending strand off her face and ran the back of his hand down her cheek. She was a sucker punch to the gut. He needed to nibble her Brandywine colored lips. This woman, who turned him inside out like no other, was a mystery, needing solving before he left. If he left.

Notice in the revision I do not change most of the original paragraph. I omit extraneous words and phrases.

As a writer, you wear two hats. The creator, relating your character’s stories. The other is the editor. You are your manuscript’s first editor. Taking the time to omit the word that may mean the difference in your story accepted immediately instead of rejected and sent back to you.

Let that go. You will be happy you did.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s