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