25 January, 2013

It's THAT Word Again

When I finished writing my novel, The Art of Letting Go, I wrote a little blog post about word frequency. Now I have finished writing my novel again (for the fourth, or is it fifth time?), and have sent it back to my agent with an e-mail along the lines of "I have no idea if I'm making it better or worse anymore", it's word cloud time again! So, at the request of Derek, here is a word cloud showing word frequency in my novel:

Word Cloud made on the fabulous wordle.net

Frankly, all this really shows is that I have ONE character called ROSEMARY and one called BEN, who LIKE to KNOW and THINK about SOMETHING a lot of the TIME. What it doesn't show is the effort I put in to reduce the frequency of the words JUST (success!) and LIKE (less success, but it used to be the biggest word by miles!) It also doesn't show my most grossly overused and hidiously abused word of all:

That is a very common word - hence why it is excluded from word cloud software. However, that doesn't mean it's OK to use it willy nilly as I do. Every time I go through my manuscript, I remove a handful of thats. Every. Time. A couple of weeks ago I did my final (ha ha!) edit and must have removed at least 30 of the offending thats. I was casually checking over just the first three chapters today - about 5700 words in all - and had to remove another four of the little blighters. I was thinking of posting about this anyway, when Derek mentioned to me that he struggles with thats as well. Anybody else find 'that' littering their work?

The general rule with that is to check if your sentence makes sense without it. If it does, leave it out! Here are some examples of innocent-looking sentences with rogue thats.

  • I was sure that he'd think me very silly.
  • If I didn't know that it was impossible, I'd have said that she was teasing me. (Twice in one sentence!)
  • He said that he wanted to go to London.

Watch out for THAT, kids! He's and sneaky little thing... Which words clutter up your otherwise tight and beautifully-crafted prose?


    1. That is definitely one of my problems. I'm trying to get better at it by not writing it in the first place, and I think I'm succeeding, but I still have to delete a bunch too.

      That is probably one of my worst offenders.

      1. It's so easy to do because it doesn't sound wrong, and in speech most people do say it.

    2. I suppose there will always be some words that end up being used more than others, and the Wordcloud shows you are focused on your main characters, which is as it ought to be. A lot depends on the rhythm of your text and whether it pleases the ear. I had considered starting this comment with 'that's entertainment', but saw sense. And that's that!

    3. Good posting. I would say that, having read that, that that is excellent advice. And that's that.

      1. What would I do without all the pithy comments on this blog? Keep 'em coming!

    4. I for one am flattered - unless you've got a lisp...


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