‘To’ and viewpoint drops
Infinitives can also interfere with point of view. In this case, it’s not immediacy at stake but what it’s possible for the viewpoint character to know.
Take a look at these examples:
In (1), I’m the viewpoint character. All is well until I meet the dog. It bares its teeth. We’re still good. But then the infinitive slips in, and with it I’m now privy to the dog’s intention – to bite. It’s a step too far. Perhaps the dog’s been trained to snarl. Maybe it’s more a warning than an impending attack.
The scene could demand I get bitten or escape intact. Either way, what matters is that we’re not in the dog’s head so we can’t know its intention. A recast that showswhat happens, rather than telling what might, is in order.
In (2), Denise is the viewpoint character. We have access to her thoughts via the free indirect discourse: The guy was a pain ... That Matty grabbed the side of the boat is fine. In fact, it’s a solid example of shown prose because although we don’t have access to his intentions or motivations (because we’re not in his head) we can make a good guess at what they are from his observable action – grabbing the side of the boat.
The infinitive tells us why he grabbed the side of the boat. And that’s a problem because we can’t know; we’re not in his head. All we can do is see through Denise’s eyes. Yes, it’s likely that he’s steadying himself, but why not let the reader do the work? His actions are enough to show them.
A recast might go like this:
Or this more staccato version: