The monstrous minions of Lord Skulsanstuf were chasing Bernard closer and closer to the edge of the fissure. Somehow, he knew that they could smell his fear. As they closed in on him, Bernard realized that he only had one choice: to jump. Even though the ravine was eleven feet across, somehow he made it over without falling in.
The word “somehow” is a shorthand. It is a shorthand for “in similar situations, what just happened would usually not happen, but I am not going to explain why it happened and I will instead just tell you that it usually wouldn’t.” It is shorthand for “Insert details here.” It is shorthand for “The plot needs this to happen, but I am putting it plainly and clearly that it wouldn’t normally happen, but giving no reason why.”
Let’s take my example from above. Focusing on the last sentence, we can tell several things. We can tell that Bernard is of a species that cannot normally jump such distances. We can tell that in most situations, he would not be able to make the jump. One thing we cannot tell is how, despite those things, he was able to make the jump.
Somehow, Bernard also knew that they could smell his fear. This means that he is not psychic or empathic. He also doesn’t have a firm grasp on monstrous minion biology. How, then, does he know that they can smell his fear? Somehow. Do you see how horrible this word is? It’s like saying “Things happen, but I’mnot explaining why.”
If you find yourself using the word in any scenario other than dialogue or sarcasm, ask yourself if you could use any possible other explanation than just “somehow.” Let’s take this sentence: Even though the ravine was eleven feet across,somehowhe made it over without falling in. One explanation could beEven though the ravine was eleven feet across, through pure grit and determination he made it over without falling in. Look! You just conveyed the exact same information while actually giving your readers an explanation! You kept it succinct and didn’t have to resort to purple prose. Somehow, you were just able to make that sentence much better.
Maybe Bernard isn’t really a grit-and-determination guy, though. Remember, you can always have a small outside factor come into play to get rid of the terrible word. Even though the ravine was eleven feet across, a fortuitous gust of wind hit his back mid-jump, and he was able to make it over without falling in. You aren’t putting in a huge, random explanation that looks awkward and came from nowhere here. Wind happens. It is a natural occurrence that doesn’t look out of place when jumping over a big crack in the earth.
Now, how does one find an explanation for Bernard somehow knowing that the minions could smell fear? He doesn’t. That would be giving your protagonist knowledge that there is literally no way he can have access to. The only thing I can think of would be if he mulls over how he was able to know that information after the encounter is over and later finds out that something had been putting knowledge into his brain. “Somehow” would actually be justifiable in such a situation. Too many authors, however, have their characters somehow know things that they shouldn’t.
“Then how do you convey to the readers that the minions smell fear?” you ask.
There are several ways. Have Bernard be ignored by the minions at some point until he gets scared of something. Thatwould actually be a scenario where Bernard himself could figure out that they smell fear. That is the best case. Another, less creative way would be for somebody to tell Bernard that they can smell fear. Having one character tell another character something is always better than intuition. Yes, you can get too wrapped up in dialogue, but if the dialogue contains pertinent things like the fact that the minions can smell fear, the likelihood is that this is some dialogue that the readers will want to read.
So, to those of you writing any kind of fiction right now, I advise you to open up the thing that you are writing. Press ctrl+f if you are on a PC, and command+f if you are on a mac. Type in “somehow.” Then take every single instance of the word not used sarcastically and not used in somebody’s speech, and replace it with an actual reason. Your readers will be happy.