Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Pitfall of "Starting to" or "Beginning to"

I've edited quite a few manuscripts and while there are common pitfalls you would expect, such as subject-verb agreement or using the right form of "there/their/they're," one pitfall has jumped out at me that completely boggles my mind.

It is (starting to) give me a headache.

I am (beginning to) notice it everywhere.

Wait.... akk! I did it just now! Those two phrases are so.... not needed. I could have just as easily said:

It gives me a headache.

I notice it everywhere.

Isn't that much better? Phrases that use "starting to" or "beginning to" when they don't need to are wordy and distracting. They don't do much for a novel, nonfiction manuscript, or news story. Why do we use them so often?

Because you and I think that way. You think in your head, I'm starting to get a headache. Great. (Well not really great.) But the fact is, you're getting a headache. Plain and simple. It's already implied that you're "starting" to get one. Because you said "getting" and if you already HAD it you would just say "I HAVE a headache" so leave me alone! Just cut out the extra words. It means the same thing.

Is this starting to make sense?


I meant, is this making sense?

Ahh yes. Much better.

Trust me. Now that I pointed this out to you, you will start to see it everywhere. I mean, you will SEE IT everywhere. Because you probably already started to (plus I already said WILL SEE IT, which implies that in the future you will start at some point).

I really AM getting a headache now.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not saying that it's horrible to use "starting to" or "beginning to" as at times they are completely warranted. But watch yourself. Overuse it, and readers may begin to pay attention to that over the plot, or they will start to get distracted by all the extra words.

Are you distracted now? I thought so.

Make it concise. Not war.

Thank you.

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