Book Characters are People Too

The martini bar was full of career women that meant nothing to Arnold. They were drinking an array of `tinis from apple to chocolate that made his stomach slightly queasy.

The above sentences contain an error that is typical of many we read in clients’ manuscripts. Can you pick it out?

It is the use of the word “that.” We have used it twice, once correctly and once incorrectly.

For the record, in both these sentences “that” is being used as a relative pronoun. A relative pronoun links two clauses in a single sentence. It is a little like a conjunction (and, or, but). The difference is that a relative pronoun takes the place of a noun. In the first sentence, “that” is taking the place of the women. In the second, it is subbing for the `tinis:
The martini bar was full of women. The women meant nothing to Arnold.
They were drinking an array of ‘tinis. The ‘tinis made his stomach queasy.

The problem is “that” is used to refer to entities or objects, but not to people. Imagine a martini bar full of women who are not people and you get androids mechanically popping back drinks. Arnold may be objectifying the bar women, but surely not that in that way. The bar should have been full of women WHO meant nothing to him.

Here, thanks to Wikipedia are examples that illustrate the difference between that and who:

This is the bank that accepted my identification.
She is the bank teller who helped us open an account.

Apologies to those of you WHO think this is obvious. But we have seen this error repeatedly and we feel bad for the book characters WHO have been rendered to object status in the prime of their short, but vital existences.