Delete That for Rhythm and Flow; Retain That for Clarity
After completing my draft and several edits of The Archer's Hollow, I came across a list of words to search for in the document. "That" was one of those words. I was amazed at how many times I had used it when it wasn't necessary.
So how do we determine when it is useful and when it is not. Stephen Wilbers' simple rule, stated in the title chapter, can guide us to better writing. Retain it for clarity, when the sentence doesn't quite make sense or is ambiguous without it: "I worry the sore on my finger, as I keep picking it, will get infected."1 Would you insert a 'that' for clarity anywhere? Here is the sentence with 'that' strategically placed for clarity: "I worry that the sore on my finger, as I keep picking it, will get infected."
Which of the following sentences should retain 'that' for clarity?
A. "She told me that she would proofread my report."
B. " I recognize that your friend may be right."2
(If you remove 'that', does either become ambiguous?)
Mr. Wilbers points out that often it it a matter of style and preference. We want to write as concisely and clearly as possible which means each word matters. I would take out 'that' in sentence A and leave it for sentence B.
Challenge for this week: Search your document or WIP for 'that'. How many can you eliminate?
TAMARA: I love that he clears this up. I remember sorting through my MS and finding too many instances of THAT. I deleted so many, but some I knew I needed to keep. Now I know why. Clarity. I need as much of it as I can get!
1. Mastering the Craft pg 46
2. Mastering the Craft pg 45