A trend is arising in manuscripts that leaves readers with a question, one they should not have to ponder. You’ve no doubt read it, and probably written it yourself. I’ve been guilty of it too. You’re reading along~or writing~and come across, “she could hear…”, or “he could see…” Just because you could possibly see or hear something, doesn’t mean you do. Which begs the question, did she in fact hear it? Did he, in fact, see it? We may never know.
All jesting aside, sometimes this tactic is called for in writing, but more often than not, it isn’t. The key is to try the sentence with “she heard” or “he saw” and feel it out. If it works that way, chances are you don’t need to pose the question. Another good way to determine which way you should write it is to ask yourself, “do I really want the reader to wonder whether or not they saw, heard, smelled, etc. whatever it was?”. If you don’t want them to wonder, why pose the question?
Hopefully those tricks will help you. And remember, sometimes the rules are meant to be broken, sometimes it will be appropriate to to pose the question. But reducing your use of this often overused writing trend will make it more powerful when you do want to use it, and clean up your writing.
Happy writing, and if you have any hypotheticals of the situation you’d like to try out, feel free to post them in the comments.