fiction · Uncategorized

That: The Irresistible Novel

Today’s simple principle comes from Chapter 12 of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. There are writers and editors out there who believe you should ban the word that from your fiction if you hope to ever score a publishing deal. Before I jump into an analysis of this chapter please remember that Gerke’s book is not a cure-all for fiction writing. He isn’t prescribing the only way to write a novel, but rather is investigating several arguments when it comes to writing in order to strengthen the writing voice of his readers.



Those who continue to allow the appearance of the term in question into their manuscripts do so because it is a natural part of the English language. Like previously discussed terms of controversy (-ly adverbs, asked and said, “to be” verbs) those who choose to incorporate these terms do so because of their reflection of natural language. To those who choose not to omit such terms they oftentimes point to the silliness of targeting certain words in order to strengthen whole manuscripts and also feel that the use of one or two arguable words is not enough to deserve a rejection letter.

Still others out there feel very strongly that the term in question should be removed in all instances from a fiction manuscript. They believe deletion of that from writing creates a stronger voice.  (It is worth noting that those who fall into this second group of writers do often feel the use of the term is acceptable when used in dialogue.)

My Current Project…

I chose not to omit that from my manuscript. In the writing of my book I was not out to create the next literary classic so much of my writing is instinctual. That isn’t to say that when it came to certain scenes in the book that I didn’t omit the term if I felt it was overused or weakening a particular moment. I’m never going to refer to myself as a stickler when it comes to the use of certain words. I understand as both a writer and a reader that depending on the text or plot that some words will bless or hinder the flow. When it comes to the term that I keep it in my writing unless it causes me to stumble around.

**A great way to catch words that weaken sentences is to read your writing out loud. Almost every piece I write goes through this editing process. It’s easier to catch the awkward wording when you hear the words as they appear on the page. Something an eye can glance right over may be a huge stumbling block to some readers.

Your Turn

Which of the following sentences do you think is stronger?

“I didn’t know that you had come home already.”

“I didn’t know you had come home already.”

Did you even notice the subtle difference that can have on a sentence?

(Gerke 83)

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