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That's not the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Speaking of psycho editing... 

When I'm not taking names out of dialogue this week, I'm taking out "that."

I never thought about "that" very much until I started reading Query Shark (which anyone who has ever considered writing a query letter should do religiously). Every so often, Janet Reid gets a query for a book to the effect of, "A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND SPACE, my steampunk paranormal horror romance YA novel set in Brooklyn, is complete at 400,000 words." And then Janet is all, "WHOA WHOA WHOA, too long. That's a prison doorstop." And then she tells the eager letter writer to, for starters, search the document for "that" and hit delete.

Since this revelation I've been kind of obsessed with "that." When I let them slip in, which I did in a story recently, it bothers me. They're jumping out when I read books, too. This is probably not a big deal for some other writers. I might need more meds.

Anyway, let us examine this phenomenon by using actual lines from my dime piece. Read it with the "that," then without. You'll find they're not really beneficial.

I walked into the bathroom and cranked the shower, hoping that a hearty flood of water rushing through the pipes would disturb Ted and Desiree’s post-sex sleep patterns, even though they were probably just passed out from all the drugs.

I was furious that these people even existed, let alone right beside me.

His tone suggested that everyone had a solid foundation in the “usual” works of Eddie Money.

I stampeded to the bathroom to wring the period and eyeliner and rain out of my clothes, to locate some green apple Lysol that I could huff and take away the pain.  

Hmm. I just realized my character does a lot of stampeding to the bathroom. Anyway.

These nasty guys are all used as subordinators, which makes them kind of wordy and unessential. But it's not an across-the-board thing. You can't simply search and delete every single one. For instance: 

I’d have that really good hair that’s shiny and looks like it tumbles and smells great, but in reality is sprayed so severely that a monsoon would not disrupt a single wisp.

The first one is a demonstrative adjective, and I'm using it to add emphasis, to imply everyone knows about this famous type of hair (and why don't I have it, WHY?). The second is a contraction, and... I'm not crazy about it. "Is" is kind of weak, generally, but I'm not sure how to get rid of it and I have fingernails to paint and whatever. Moving on. The third one is trash.
DISCLAIMER: Please don't go searching my blogs, stories and excerpts for grammatical errors and "that," because I assure you, you'll find a million and five. My formal grammar is shaky at best. All I know is, throwing away crappy words sure feels good. THAT'S what I'm stepping in, if you smell me. (See what I did there?)

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