Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (03 THAT’s the Problem in Revising)


THAT’s the Problem in Revising

What’s the problem?”

That’s the problem.”



I don’t get it.”

That’s the problem.”

Sound like the old “Who’s on first” routine? Extraneous words that make a writer’s work bulky need to be eliminated. But how can you eliminate words that you don’t even see? That’s the problem, and that is one of those words that can usually be cut. Dialogue that is casual regularly contains many incidences of that word, but when it comes to writing, that can usually be deleted.

Are you still confused? If a sentence is understandable without “that” in it, take it out.

Example: “She told him that she was leaving” reads just fine as “She told him she was leaving.”

But why bother going through your manuscript at all to cut out extraneous words? Writing is a difficult, creative process. It’s nearly impossible to keep all the “rules” of writing in your head while being creative. Rules are a left-brained activity. Every completed manuscript needs revising before you can call it finished. Culling the extraneous “that”s is one step toward ensuring your story is tight, concise, and dramatic.

Other cuts include:

  • Unnecessary dialogue tags:

If two characters are having a conversation, you don’t need “Mary said” or “Tony replied” after each spoken line or paragraph. They were needed while writing creatively, so you, the writer, could keep track of who was speaking. But when the scene is finished, look for ones that can be removed. If your scene contains multiple speakers, be very cautious in removing dialogue tags!

  • Adverbial intensifiers (really, very, even, least, of course):

These are easy words to cut. If you’ve set up the scene and the characters properly, these intensifiers are not necessary. A small amount may remain in dialogue, because people do speak that way.

  • Unquantifiable terms (large, small, tiny, plain, stuff, thing, it):

How big is large? How small is tiny? You can’t explain either term without relating it to something else. So specify. A suitcase-sized block of cheese. A sword thin as a pencil. And as for “thing” and “it,” you need to specify, especially if the last noun mentioned isn’t what you mean: “Irene backed into the dumpster, then drove off in it.” Um, the implied car or the stated dumpster?

  • And” (connect with a comma when possible)

Bob and Alex walked into the store and talked about what was new.” How about: “Bob and Alex walked into the store, talking about what was new.” Be careful, though—the second construction implies they did both at the same time (concurrent) rather than one after another (consecutive). In some cases, “and” might be necessary. We’ll talk more about concurrent versus consecutive another time.

  • Passive verb add-ons (began to, decided to, started to):

These are wordy and unnecessary. Skip straight to the action verb unless the action is actually interrupted.

  • So as to” or “in order to”:

Also wordy. Change these constructions to a simple “to” when possible. “In order to get a raise…” loses two words when changed to “To get a raise…”

In other posts, I’ll discuss different types of cuts that will increase your word count, but in a good way.

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!


Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing




26 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (03 THAT’s the Problem in Revising)

  1. I’m impressed by your insights. After waiting 50 years to publish my first novel about the 1960’s counterculture in Washington DC I need a team of brave souls to help with my stage fright. I hope to hire you as part of that team as soon as I retire next year. With your expertise perhaps a few of my other novels, currently living out their lives in suitcases, can also see daylight.


  2. Great suggestions for editing! With every edit, the manuscript improves so this is one task that I thoroughly enjoy! I am currently editing my second novel. Thanks for visiting my blog and following. I will be back to read more of your posts.


    • Wow, you’re one of the few writers I’ve run into who enjoys self-editing! 🙂 You seem to have a unique view on the job–that of improving your manuscript–rather than looking at it like a chore. Good for you, Bev!


  3. Great post once again, Susan. I may use you for some proofreading later this year.

    Just curious, on your website, the proofreading charge is $25 + 0.004 cent per word.

    Now this may sound like a stupid question, but I have to ask just to confirm because my math skills simply suck. 🙂

    So for a 100,000 word manuscript, would the cost be $425 or $4025?


  4. Fabulous. Being lucky enough to know what my own editor looks for, the first thing I do with a finished 1st draft is go through to search for “and then” which is bad habit of mine. Having got rid of all of those, I do separate searches for “and” “then” “that” and “which” …. it’s time-consuming but worth it.


  5. I was going to do a witty post full of all the above mistakes, but my brain’s on strike so that will have to wait until it wakes up. It’s only a small annoyance but really bugs me when it happens. It really should hold up its side of the bargain and begin to work at some point. In order for this to be possible I’d better go take a small nap and I’ll give it a bit of a try later.


  6. Good article Susan.

    Usually I give my latest WIP to my Beta readers. Fresh eyes are essential.

    While I’m waiting I produce a .mobi and .pdf file to read it through onscreen via my Adobe and Kindle computer applications.

    Why do I do this? I find I miss so many of these errors by just viewing the WIP in its original Word .doc form.

    Unlike a lot of my fellow writers who have not moved with the times by embracing twenty-first century technology, long gone are the days when I used to slavishly printed the entire manuscript out double spaced.

    Why waste a tree?



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