Fiction writing tip: Beware of writing “began to” and “started to”

I find sentences like the following one in most novels written by novice writers.
She started to run across the street.

Writers should avoid saying that someone “began” or “started” to do something or that something began or started to happen. People either do something or they don’t, and an event either occurs or it doesn’t. In the example sentence you should write, “She ran across the street.”

You wouldn’t say, “The bomb started to explode,” would you? I certainly hope not. You’d say, “The bomb exploded.”

The only time you can use began to or started to is when something interrupts the action, as in these sentences:

Jack began to stand, but the man shoved him back down into the chair.

Jill started to take off her shoes, then saw a spider on her shoelace.

In these examples, using began to or started to is okay because an action starts but is not completed.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services

Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

Did you like this post? If so, please click Like and share it.