Writers Clue: Stop saying STARTED TO

A few months ago I purchased ProWritingAid to help teach me basic grammar flaws I’ve been falling victim to. While there are quite a few grammar no-nos I’ve been doing, one that sticks out is my need to tell readers when a character is starting to do something, rather than just tell ya’ll that they’re doing it.

Example: Henry started to unravel his orange sweater.

Now, this isn’t always the case, but most of the time I find that this works a little better.

Better: Henry unraveled his orange sweater.

To me, this creates a sense of urgency for Henry. He’s in a hurry to unravel his sweater. By saying he started to unravel his sweater the pace slows down. Readers anticipate something to come during the process of unraveling his sweater. In my example, there is nothing important to report in between Henry starting to unravel his sweater and Henry unraveling his sweater.

When I write I do my best not to nitpick grammar as I go. Therefore, when I go back to review I find a lot of words can be removed. The phrase “started to” being one I often pick off.

Three other big culprits include that, like, and just.

That, like, just isn’t fair! I sound like my thirteen-year-old self trying to reason with my parents. No worries, that’s what the editing process is for. Fortunately the more I write, the more I recognize my own flaws, and I use them less often. This makes editing a lot quicker and not as painful.

Tell me what you prefer. I’m not an editor, I haven’t even published my first book. I could be completely off here!

Henry started to unravel his sweater. VS Henry unraveled his sweater.

Photo by Philip Estrada on Unsplash


  1. I think it largely depends on the situation. Sometimes the character needs to be “starting to” do something while in the midst of dialogue or a chain of actions. I tend to think modern writing has a few too many rules, though. Good grammar and smooth sentences are a must, but I think some editors/authors/proofreaders go so far in their efforts to streamline that a writer could lose their ‘voice’, making everything a clone of a basic formula.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is definitely a phrase I overuse without realising. Occasionally I throw in a ‘began to’ as well. I overuse just, and feel/felt as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, let’s hope so! Speaking of which, starting a line of dialogue with either ‘So’ or ‘Well’, I have to go through and remove many of those.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Trouble is that real conversation is full of ‘so’ and ‘well’ and repeats of all kinds. So difficult to write conversations as, most of the time, in the real world, we talk over one another all of the time and nobody ever listens to the question… er, what was it you wanted to know?

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Yes, fiction really shouldn’t be like real life, nobody would believe it. The trick is not simply copying existing dialogue, finding something that sounds real, but isn’t.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I once read that dialogue should be almost perfect English. Meaning it gets to the point, doesnt use filler words (sticky words) too often, and avoids most slang. I tend to do what feels right at the time, there’s always time to edit and watch pace.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve caught “began to” before, which set me up for disappointment when the conclusion wasn’t officially offered. Oh! Henry shouldn’t be unraveling the orange sweater. The green one is much worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🤣 maybe it’s an orange and green sweater. Now that sounds horrific. I also use “began to” and always delete them during edits. It’s hard not to end when I’m writing sometimes but it helps my pace if I don’t

      Liked by 1 person

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