It Makes It Seem as if It has too Many Its

“It” is an invisible word. We use it so frequently and are so used to seeing it, that we barely notice its use when we read it or write it. It takes a good editor to look beyond the expected to what is and find the “it”s that make our writing so hazy. See all my “it”s? Makes me seem like a lazy writer, and normally that would be true, but it was very difficult using so many “it”s in such a short time, but I needed all these “it”s to make a point. “It” has its place, but most often, a more specific word would make the writing come alive.

I wrote a short story for Change is in the Wind, the Second Wind Publishing anthology that will be released this spring. I write so little fiction now that I expected red marks to litter the pages when I got the draft back from my editor, but surprisingly, the story worked. Or the piece would have worked except for those annoying “it”s.

For example, I wrote, Unshed tears filled her chest and lungs. For a few seconds she thought she’d die, right there in her kitchen, leaning against the granite counter. She finally managed to draw first one breath, then another, but it hurt so horribly it didn’t seem worth the effort. And Scott wasn’t there to comfort her.

These sentences show a grieving woman, and there is nothing wrong with them, but the description of her pain is so much better when detailed words replace the “it”s. Unshed tears filled her chest and lungs. For a few seconds she thought she’d die, right there in her kitchen, leaning against the granite counter. She finally managed to draw first one breath, then another, but her chest hurt so horribly, the inhalations didn’t seem worth the effort. And Scott wasn’t there to comfort her.

There’s not a lot of difference between the two examples, but in a short story, where every word counts, precise words are better than place-holding pronouns such as “it.”

On another page I wrote: A touch of green against the dry brown of the tree trunk caught her attention. She went still. Could that really be what it looked like? She leaned closer to the tree and studied the willow shoot sprouting out of the base of the trunk.

And this is the final version: A touch of green against the dry brown of the tree trunk caught her attention. She went still. Could she really be seeing a renewal? She leaned closer to the tree and studied the willow shoot sprouting out of the base of the trunk.

A single word-change made this climactic scene pop. And that’s the point of paying attention to vague words like “it” and replacing them with more exacting words. Details make good writing burst into life.

6 Responses to “It Makes It Seem as if It has too Many Its”

  1. Dawn Colclasure Says:

    Good post. One of the best kinds of feedback I ever received from a beta reader was this: “I don’t know what ‘it’ means.” It’s made me more attentive to detail.

  2. Dawn Colclasure Says:

    LOL “That comment” has made me more attentive to detail. (See how easily that “it” can slip in there??)

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Dawn, That pesky little word does slip in when you’re not looking. I had to proof this post three times to make sure “it” didn’t slip in where I didn’t want the word to be.

  3. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Thank you. Now I’ve added “it” to my list of removables. Great examples of good editing.

  4. Cathy "Elaine Garverick" Gingrich Says:

    It’s a wonder that its in its place before it does it to it. I’m going to go count the “it-its” in my manuscript! If it’s too much for me I’ll stop it.
    Elaine 🙂
    PS Thanks. Pat, for another sweet tip…it’s really swell of you.


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