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Terrible Tips Tuesday: Subliminal Editing

September 27, 2011

Last weekend I was reading the rough draft of this story so I could make some edits and then send it out to guinea pigs beta readers.  I’d already read through it a couple times before to fix a lot of the continuity problems and so forth, so this was mostly just to catch typos or other glitches.  You want to know the biggest problem though:  THAT.

I mean the actual word, that.  I have this annoying habit of putting extra “that”‘s in places where they aren’t really necessary.  For instance I’ll have a sentence like:

He shoved the papers off the chair so that he could sit down.

There isn’t anything really wrong with that sentence, is there?  But if you think about it, you could also say:

He shoved the papers off the chair so he could sit down.

See what I mean?  You don’t really need “that” in the sentence for it to read fine.  Maybe some grammar snob can tell me which (if any) is more correct, but the second reads all right and it has one less word.

Does that matter?  Not all the time.  Still, when I notice the extra “that”‘s then I start to see them all over the place.  I have no idea how many I wound up deleting over the weekend.  A hundred?  Maybe a bit less.

Another word I unconsciously use a lot:  JUST.  And not like “it’s a just system.”  More like:

Just put that on that table.


There’s just one more thing we need to do.

In either case, I don’t really need the “just” in it.  Both sentences read fine without the word in there.  I just can’t stop myself so that I wind up doing it all the time.  Maybe you’ve got your own bugaboos you find when editing.  The point is there’s a lot worse things than adverbs out there.


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  1. I see that you just noticed that you have a problem with that kind of thing. It’s just that it may not be that big of a deal, really; you could just ignore all the extra that’s.

    I came up with that off the top of my head! I’m so proud of me. I’m like a space cowboy. You should offer out your services as an editor. I’d hire you. I HATE proofreading. Or editing. Or anything that requires me to do more than occasionally slip in a non sequiturial reference to Christopher Walken or Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

    • I could do light edits but there are a lot of grammar issues I’m not good at it. For instance, is it “his parents’ bedroom” or “his parents’s bedroom”? That’s the kind of stuff that messes me up.

  2. Lol! Well said.

  3. Just do a word document search for all of your “that”s and “just”s and have them replaced with nothing. Then reread for continuity.

    • There are still places where I want to use “that” or “just” so I think it’s easier to just read through it and pick out which ones I don’t want.

  4. I do the same thing, having words I use over and over for not reason. ‘Just’ is one of my big ones. I also have character’s nod, a lot. Like, I have pages of stuff with characters nodding all the time. I think I should write a story about someone trapped in a bobble head universe where everyone is constantly nodding, maybe I could get it out of my system that way.

    Anyway, I agree with Michael – do a search for words you think you might overuse. I think I deleted dozens of ‘Justs’ the last time I looked over my would be novel and I still have hundreds there. At least you are seeing them now. When you’re close to the manuscript it’s easy to go blind to all that stuff and just ignore them as you read.

    • There was someone saying one day that having characters smile and such is “cliche,” to which I said, WTF? I wouldn’t go that far, but you do have to be careful not to do that all the time. Sometimes I get too many actions going in dialog and have to remind myself to just let it flow without the actions.

      • The person that said it was cliche is under the impression that the cliche isn’t what publishing is about. I used to be naive like that. Now I know better. Be cliche.

  5. Just, That, Really and Very. Four prime offenders.

    Smiling isn’t a cliche, but you can overdo it with the body language in general.

  6. I really should have reread this post before I started editing stuff this winter. THAT continues to be my nemesis.

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