When I see the word “somehow” in writing, I do a little frown that’s accompanied with a oh-so-slight eyeroll. Similar to when I see internet comments that consist of one word: “this.”
I see this problem a lot, and I openly admit that I’ve been guilty of the same: we see the events in our head. But our readers are not in our head. They don’t see what we see. We need to show what we see.
But the word “somehow” displays laziness on the writer’s part. It makes it look as if the writer is just as clueless as the reader and hopes the reader won’t notice. The “somehow” statement does nothing for the story. It’s as if we jumped from here to there without making the actual jump.
Example: “Somehow, breakfast was made and the kids were at the table.”
As a writer, our job is to show. Show the painting with words. Show the emotions. Show the problem. Even journalists and nonfiction writers do this. You don’t see a news article that says: “Somehow, the power lines fell and disrupted traffic.” No, they tell you how and why.
One method of editing the example sentence is to use the elimination method: “Breakfast was made and the kids were at the table.” I typically prefer the less-is-more rule. This method works fine with most instances of this word.
However, wouldn’t you rather show the story?
Another method is to expand that vague adverb. Think of it this way: Why did I use that word? Was I just being lazy, or I don’t really know how it happened? Think of what happened during that “somehow” — or somewhere, or sometime, or somewhat. Use the instance of the word to show character, or setting, or an emotion. The expand method would look like this: “She dropped the milk jug and tripped over the cat, nearly falling onto the stove. Yet, Mother pressed on. And despite a few hundred deep breaths, she managed to get breakfast onto the table in one piece. A little burnt, but all was ready at last.”
Now we get a good feel of the mood and imagery of the scene. Because “somehow,” anything can always happens. That’s not good enough in storytelling.
Now if you’re intentionally being vague, then of course it’s okay to leave that instance of the word. I’m not saying to cut out every single instance of it from the manuscript. But make them work. Don’t obfuscate because of laziness on your part. And most importantly, don’t confuse or insult the reader.