ADD Characters? Or Overzealous Writing?

One of the quirky things about the first drafts of novels we see is that they are often full of characters, who start things and never seem washingdishesrgbto finish them. We are always reading about Character X, who “began to wash the dishes” or Character Y, “who began to close the windows.” There is often no reference to Character X finishing washing the dishes or Character Y completing the task of closing the windows.

It is tempting to imagine that all the characters in all these books are suffering from attention deficit disorder. But really this is a language issue. Authors who write about characters beginning things are technically correct. You have to begin something before you can do it, but in the telescoped world of a book, it is usually preferable to skip that first step. Characters can just do whatever it is: Character X washed the dishes. Character Y closed the windows. Or better yet, be specific: X moved a stack of plates to the dishpan and picked up the sponge. Y slammed down the living room window as the rain pelted in and ran upstairs to the bedroom.

 “Begin to” or “began to” are mostly just extra words that get between the reader and the book. An exception to this is when a beginning has significance in itself: The race began with a shot from the pistol. Since the race and the outcome of the race are likely to feature in this story, the beginning has importance.  Winter began that night with a shot of brutal cold. Here again, winter is likely to last some time and have an effect on the story so the moment of its beginning has significance. God began by creating heaven and earth. This paraphrase of a famous book needs no explanation. The beginning, in this context,

           As you write and find yourself using “begin” or “began,” step back and see if the sentence really needs these words. If you can pretty much just cut them out and not affect the meaning of your story, you don’t need them. When you do this, you are beginning to self-edit…