Monday, April 16, 2007

That "that"

By Josi S. Kilpack

I’m the first to say I’m NOT a grammar guru, and I know many people that will easily second it. I’m pretty good at content editing, (if I say so myself) not so good at grammar other than knowing that some things sound good and some things don’t.

However, I’m am always looking for ways to improve. A year or so ago I picked up Ken Rand’s book The 10% Solution. I haven’t finished it yet—in fact I’ve misplaced it and trying to find it, not to mention that it takes me a loooooooong time to read writer-help books. But I did read the first few chapter and for my blog today want to give you a task that will make your book better and make you just a little bit smarter ☺

In Word (yes, I’m assuming everyone uses Word, if you don’t, then adjust to fit your word processing program.) Go to “Edit” and then click on “Find”. Type in the word “That” and hit “Find all” or “Highlight all items in main document”—what it should do is then tell you how any times you used the word “that” in your manuscript.

Do it, for real…

Are you surprised by the number of times that one word shows up in your text? I was. I had over 3,000. The book was 85,000 words, so “that” made up about 3% of my book. Wow. And “that” was only one of a whole list of ‘extra’ words the book suggested I look for.

The 10% solution is based upon the theory that when a book is done, its got 10% too much of quite a few things. The way you fix it is to take 10% of it out. This results in a tighter book. You waste less words, your description is clearer. Well, being the prodigy that I am (or a grammar idiot), I ended up cutting almost 40% of my “that”s. By going through one “that” sentence at a time I realized how many “that”s were wasted ones. For example

“It’s just that, that guy said…”

can be

“That guy said”

*not only did I get rid of a “that” I got rid of two other words and the context wasn’t changed. “That” should almost never be two in a row. It’s almost always not necessary.

…other than knowing that some things sound good and some don’t.

can be

…other than knowing some things sound good and some don’t.

It was the only thing that she could do.

Can be

It was the only thing she could do.

Notice that none of these sentences were harmed by taking out the “that”. Now, it’s not always the case. Some “That”s need to stay, but YOU need to know the difference between an extra “that” and a necessary one.

So open you document and run a check, see if you can cut out 10% and enjoy the tighter writing.

(how many “that”s are in this blog? I didn’t 10% it ☺)


Heather B. Moore said...

Okay, Josi. I just did it. In the 105,000 word thriller I'm "reworking" right now, I have 704 "that"'s. It looks like I have some work to do. Thanks for the great advice.

Josi said...

Yet you have 20,000 more words than I did and about a quarter of the the "that"s. What does that say about me? don't answer :-) As I said, I'm always looking for improvement