Writing ‘he felt like he was meant to be there’

This week:

  • I get pedantic about what this phrase implies
  • I am not ok with lazy writing
  • I suggest ways this phrase can work really well
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Writing ‘he felt like he was meant to be there’ is one of those things that probably most people wouldn’t mind either way.

However, I have some thoughts on why using it needs to be considered carefully.

This is a sentence that I have seen a lot in fiction and I have come to have certain feelings towards it.

The sentence ‘he felt like he was meant to be there’ (or any similar variation) suggests several things, and unless the rest of the narrative delivers on those, it seems to me like a bit of a cheat.

Let me explain:

When it is used

This (in my experience) is used when a character makes a decision to take a certain path.  For instance, when they choose to go in a certain direction, or they go back somewhere once they’ve been told not to, or they decide to train to be a something-or-other and dedicate their life/time/career to it.

It tends to be used when the character does something that commits them to the rest of the plot.

Why it is used

It’s used to show that the character (assuming this is a tight third person POV) feels a sense of rightness after taking a certain path or entering a certain place.

It can be used to justify a character’s choice to go somewhere they shouldn’t because it felt right to them.

This is not in itself a problem.  Lot of people make decisions because of a gut feeling, and that is a legitimate thing to represent in your story.

My problem with it

My problem comes when it is used badly.

It can – not always, but often – be used as a lazy way for the author to justify sending their character down an unexpected path (either literal or figurative).

If a character goes against convention, or authority, or their own personal history to do something unexpected, the author can just add the phrase ‘he felt like he was meant to be there’ and that justifies it.  My problem with that is that it can undermine all of the character development or world-building that’s taken place so far by suddenly introducing this new aspect of Fate or gut feelings or instinct that wasn’t there before.

What it suggests

There are two main things that it suggests to me:

Either Fate is at work here, or the character relies heavily on their gut feeling or instinct.

1. Fate

If it suggests that Fate is at work and is nudging the character in a certain direction, then I definitely expect this sense of Fate to materialise again in the story.  If this is the only mention of it, then I don’t believe it.

If the character has never alluded to Fate (or some variation thereof) then this sense of rightness they are experiencing is out of the ordinary.

To use it appropriately, the character must have a belief in some force beyond their control or understanding (like Fate, or God – of whichever religion – or the power of the universe).  It should be a part of their identity and it would be a part of their experience.  That means it would be relevant throughout your story.

Or, if you’re writing a Fantasy story and you have an actual, undeniable force at work (like, for instance, the Greek gods) then that would also appear throughout your story.

In either of those instances, I expect this to materialise in your character’s thoughts, actions and speech long before it was used to justify a major choice.

2. Instinct

If it implies that the character relies on their instincts, then that that needs to be something they do throughout the story (or be a part of their character arc that they learn to trust/not trust their feelings).

As with Fate, this needs to be consistent and it needs to appear before the critical moment.  There is no point in just shoving in a ‘sense of being in the right place’ when the character has always been rational and analytical before.  The sudden change will jar the reader and we will lose confidence in them as a narrator or protagonist.

When it works

The use of ‘he felt like he was meant to be there’ can be really effective if used properly.

When it is foreshadowed or set up properly in the character development, it can be a really useful tool for the writer to exploit, and an interesting aspect of world-building (the pull of Fate) or character (their belief system or self-reliance).

In conclusion

I am definitely not saying don’t use this.

I just hope that you use it effectively.

Tell me your thoughts (if you feel like you were meant to comment)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this interesting little phrase.  Leave a comment in the section below to let me know what you think or find me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  Say hello and let me know when you’ve come across this phrase.

Get more writing advice

I love going into the nitty-gritty of writing so check out these posts if you want to learn more about the craft of writing.

How to write your first chapter if you’re overwhelmed

Six reasons to listen to writing podcasts

Why your English Teacher didn’t want you to write ‘said’

Writing female secondary characters and why it’s important

Importantly, keep reading and keep writing.

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