The Word “That” – Let’s Look at That

by | Writing | 2 comments

image by geralt
image by geralt

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor,

See more about the book at the end of the post.


We’re told to get rid of as many “thats” as we can. Sometimes we can remove the word “that” and the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change. Other times we can rewrite a sentence and eliminate “that.” Sometimes, we need to keep “that” because the sentence won’t make sense without the word.

Ways the Word “That” Is Used


1. Natural: “I like all the options.” Tina pointed at a red dress. “But I’ll take that one.”

Could rewrite & remove: “I like all the options.” Tina pointed at a dress. “But I’ll take the red one.”

2. With “that” – gives punch: “Why’d you take the job?”

                                             “I need the money. That’s why.”

Without “that” – is explanatory: “Why’d you take the job?”

                                                 “Because I need the money.”

Rewrite and Remove

3. Wordy: Jace took the time that was needed to do the job.

Better: Jace took the time needed to do the job. 

4. So That: She tiptoed so that he wouldn’t hear her footsteps.

Better: She tiptoed so he wouldn’t hear her footsteps.

5. Unnecessary: He was so involved that he missed the point.

Better: He was so involved he missed the point.

6. “That repeated: He told her to sit three times. He said that he disliked repeating that.

Better: He told her to sit three times. He said he disliked repeating that.

Could rewrite: He told her to sit three times. He said he disliked repeating commands.

7. Unnecessary: Neither party was happy with the compromise that they’d reached.

Better: Neither party was happy with the compromise they’d reached.

Necessary or Useful

8. Wordy: He could build an empire, but building an empire would take a long time.

Better: He could build an empire, but that would take a long time.

9. Necessary: “Love Me Tender” was the one song that made her weep.

Removal doesn’t work: “Love Me Tender: was the one song made her weep.

Rewrite changes meaning: “Love Me Tender” made her weep.

10. Helpful connector: He guffawed. Jill raised her eyebrows at that but was grateful for his company.

May not connect guffaw and raised eyebrows: He guffawed. Jill raised her eyebrows but was grateful for his company.

If “that” isn’t a word you overuse, what pesky word sneaks into your writing too often?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,”  

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart.

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising an early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in 30 days!

—Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. Marcia

    The examples are very helpful.Thank you.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I’m glad the examples were helpful, Marcia.

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