When beginning matters

“He began to walk across the room.”

“She started to answer.”

Why do I need to know this? Why can’t it just say “He walked” and “She answered”?

This is one of the most common issues I see in my fiction editing work. Characters are forever starting and beginning things they could, quite honestly, just do. So, when does beginning matter?

If the action’s going to be interrupted by something “on screen,” readers will appreciate the beginning of it.

He began to walk across the room, but a tree crashed through the roof and blocked his path to the kitchen.

(How’s he going to get to the bagels now? It’s a catastrophe!)

She started to answer. Before she got three words out, though, a gunshot cracked in the street and she dove behind the couch.

(She’s either used to this happening, or she’s got training from somewhere.)

It also matters if the beginning has been delayed or put off.

Following a marathon of GoT episodes (he had sworn it would be only one, but that’s like saying he’d eat only one potato chip), he sat down and started writing.

I’ll also note here that “began” and “started” are not dialogue tags. Note in the examples I’ve provided that I’ve used them to indicate action, not speech.

“I can’t even–” she started, but a gunshot cracked in the street and she dove behind the couch.

NO.

“I can’t even–” A gunshot cracked in the street and she dove behind the couch. The rest could wait.

BETTER. At least it’s not using “started” as a tag. In fact, it doesn’t require “started” at all. The interrupted speech shows us she started to speak.

Starting and beginning happen. We don’t always have to be told they’re happening, though. Let the action and speech do the work.

One thought on “When beginning matters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s