“Start” is a 7 Deadly Sin Word for a Good Reason

The 7 Deadly Sins list (See Handouts! Free!) is a picky little thing. Ignore at your peril, gentle reader.

Profit from this wee excerpt from the superb The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes by multiple-Edgar winner Lawrence Block. 


He shook his head. “Got a private investigator’s license, got to know the sheriff, and when we needed somebody with no local ties to play a part and wear a wire, I got the job.”

“And that was when, a couple of days ago?” 

“There was a job before that,” he said, and started to tell her about the auto dealer.


This should’ve been: “There was a job before that,” he said, and told her about the auto dealer.” 

Lawrence Block is one of the finest writers ever. But… when I was reading, I thought the P.I. started to tell her but didn’t finish telling her. That’s how “start” feels. 

He did tell her about the auto dealer. He didn’t hesitate and stop telling her because he didn’t want her to have the information. He told her. 

The next sentence is…


She remembered him, how he’d tried to get his partner killed and wound up going away for it, but hadn’t known about the way the evidence was gathered to lock down the case.


This is teeny tiny minuscule eensy weensy concern. For a moment, I didn’t understand what was going on. When I continued reading, I figured it out. However, I had… been… jostled.

You want your writing to be totally completely wonderfully smooth, like ice sliding on ice or like not wanting a hint of gristle in your chicken salad.

Yes, technically, the sentence is correct. He started to tell her and he continued to tell her and finally, he had told her. As someone wise said long ago, the important thing in writing is not for it to be possible for your reader to understand you, the important thing is for your writing to be so clear that it is impossible for the reader to misunderstand you.

And that, gentle reader, makes a world of difference.

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Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting

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