Starting… Starting… Starting…

I witnessed a peculiar practice by some Southerners. Before actually doing something, they had to “prepare” to do it. Example:

[Wife] “Honey, will you take out the trash?”
[Husband] “Sure.”
[10 min. later… Irritated Wife] “You said you’d take the trash out!”
[Husband] “I’m getting ready to do it.”

I’ve also discovered most writers write this way! (Even me.) So let’s attempt to get ready to prepare to be fixin’ to break this bad habit! 😉

When we write, we visualize a scene unfolding in our minds. So we write it as though the reader is watching it along with us. The problem is that once readers read the scene, it’s already in the past.

We write, “She began to unlock the door.” By the time the reader has read that, the door is unlocked. (They don’t see her hand frozen in the motion of unlocking the door—she’s already unlocked it, and they’re waiting to see what happens next.)

Here’s another example I see a lot. “Tara, I… I’m falling in love with you.” He hesitantly started telling her. See the problem? By the time we read his words, he’s already spoken—he’s not “starting” anymore.

The reason you want to avoid this bad habit (in emails, blogs, everywhere) is that it makes your writing drag and dilutes the action. When we read, our brains immediately look for the verbs, the action. When we read a bunch of preparation words, there’s no action. It’s dull and often frustrating to read unnecessary words, and the action is already over by the time we get to it.

Here are some examples of “to be” verbs that need to be cut. Note that they are typically “-ing” words.

[NO] As soon as Jax got the call, he started putting on his bulletproof vest and picking up his gun.
[YES] As soon as Jax got the call, he put on his bulletproof vest and grabbed his gun.

[NO] Amelia was peeking in the window. Sal was whispering something to Lester that made him start to frown angrily.
[YES] Amelia peeked in the window. Sal whispered something to Lester that made him frown angrily.

[NO] As the dog started running toward her, Leena began screaming.
[YES] As the dog ran toward her, Leena screamed.

I’m sure you can see the pattern here. But here’s the tough part—can you identify it in your own writing?

There is only one time “starting” an action works—when someone interrupts it. Example:

Little Suzie started to open the cupboard. Abruptly her mom slammed it shut. “You had enough junk food today, young lady! No more until after dinner.”
The reason it works is that Suzie didn’t finish opening the cupboard when her mom stopped her.

If no one interrupts a person’s actions, avoid using “preparing” language—go right to the action!

Savvy Writer Tip:

Writers: using “to be” verbs in a present continuous tense should always be reworded with simple past tense.

Everyone: don’t have people start to or prepare to or begin doing things—have them DO them. 🙂

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