Monday, March 24, 2014

How about that
          I’m reading a thriller novel by a much-awarded and popular author, and the story is, as usual for him, fresh and absorbing.  But the narrative is heavily overloaded with thats.  So much so, they’re intruding on the story, jarring me out of the fictional construction this author has otherwise so cleverly built, whenever I stumble over yet another that.
“. . . I didn’t think that I had ever . . .”
“. . . meaning that she also had . . .”
“. . . not that I thought that they’d go . . .”
“. . . if I believed that that was the answer . . .”
          On some pages there are ten or a dozen thats.  And that’s just far too many thats.  In almost all of these instances, the that could have simply been deleted, thus streamlining and speeding up the narrative.  (Try cutting the thats in each of the above examples.  In the third and fourth examples, at least one that can be struck without compromising clarity.)
          Yet I’ve often found myself guilty of this same infraction, of getting so enamored by a certain word I’ll use it repeatedly throughout a manuscript, or three or four times in succession within a few pages.  We do this unconsciously, and so it’s hard to correct, even with thorough self-editing. 
          It’s one good reason to have every manuscript line-edited by someone experienced at spotting word over-usage, among the many other technical misdemeanors most of us don’t even realize we’re committing.
          Think about people who say “you know” or “like” thirty or forty times in every conversation.
          It’s, like, tedious at best, you know?


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