Started to, Began to – Redundant Phrases

I don’t know when this “started” to occur, but it’s fairly recent. I don’t recall reading about heroes and heroines “beginning to” do something, or “starting to do something” much before. Now it’s so prevalent that it’s annoying as heck. In a current published novel I’m reading (for fun), there are 49 instances of someone beginning to do something, and just as many “starting to”.

Here are a few samples, to show what I mean:

He wrapped the calf in it (a towel) and began to dry her.

She began to respond with deeper breaths and finally a weak bawl.

When she latched on and began to nurse…

Clara began to pull a comb gently through the girl’s tangled hair.

She finished combing and began to braid the tangled strands.

Okay – there’s five examples from The Amish Nanny, by Patricia Davids, a Love Inspired novel. The ones about the calf all occurred on the same page, the last two only a page or so later. The words just started jumping off the page at me, and annoying me… enough so that I decided to write this post.

When to use “began to”

Sometimes, it is okay to begin to do something – especially if it is an action that the character is not going to complete. He began to wash the dishes, but then quit when his sister laughed at him. That would make sense.

Otherwise, it’s just a waste of words, and that is something a good writer should never do.

He should have wrapped that calf in a towel and DRIED her. He just dried her – he started to do it, and he finished it. The words “began to” are unnecessary! Then the calf responded with deeper breaths – not began to respond – unless she was going to die after all. When she latches on, she nursed – not began to nurse. She will nurse, and continue nursing until she is no longer hungry, unless she has a serious problem, like being born prematurely, or suffering a brain injury that makes it difficult for her to continue nursing.

When Clara takes the comb, she combs the girl’s hair – she doesn’t begin to comb it. She combs and completes the task. And then, she should not begin to braid it – but simply braid it.

Of course, if the author really knew the Amish, she would not have the heroine braiding the child’s hair at all. There is a phrase in the Bible that speaks against braiding of the hair, which the Amish adhere to. Little girls wear their hair in buns, identical to the women. Little girls wear dresses identical to what the adult women wear, just smaller.  Little boys wear clothing identical to what grown men wear.  There is conformity in the community, and no braiding of hair for anyone. But that is a topic for another post.

Write with Clarity and Intelligence

The issue at hand is learning to write with clarity and intelligence. So, just because you can find instances of “began to” and “started to” in published fiction, does not make it right! It is still amateurish and redundant. Learn to write clearly and beautifully, and maybe your novel will withstand the sands of time to become a modern classic.

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