“Seems to me…” “You seem to feel that…” “This one seemed to be more difficult than…”
Seem/Seems/Seemed – we use it as a way to avoid dogmatic judgment and display flexibility – to soften our potential read of what we think we see happening, to leave ourselves wiggle-room. It keeps the conversation open and moving.
But be aware: None of this sort of thing is good for fiction. What fiction likes is concrete dogmatic clarity with as little between the observer and the observation as possible.
If you’re like me you use these words too often. Here is an exercise for you. Search a piece of your fiction for the word seem. This will bring up seem and all its forms. Below is what my search yielded. I’ve given each use a grade and a comment. (This word is so very nearly useless that I won’t ever give it an A):
He comes toward us at something between a hobble and a limp. He lurches to one side in such a way that it seems he might tip over. (B – Here seems is used to indicate the possibility of something happening over which the observer has no control. I might let this one go. We’ll see.)
Our foreheads touched. Conversation fell silent and we stayed like this for a few brief moments. It seemed, frozen in this scene, the cookery a delightful mess, Seth lying on the floor with a kitten he had found, it seemed possible to reclaim ourselves. (C – This is pretty rough stuff, too many clauses. Seemed is used twice and is part of a section that needs a general overhaul. While such uses of seemed are about as acceptable as you’re going to find, in the clean-up I’ll still look to get rid of them.)
Each leaf is shaded such that it seems to flutter in a sunny evening breeze. (C – Why not use ‘appears’ instead? Here the character is describing what he sees in a piece of art. Calling out the visual descriptor would bring clarity to his comment. I’ll likely recast the sentence while I’m at it as its awkward and indirect.)
Tales like this one are easily dismissed. The purveyors of such talk are often deemed ignorant or delusional. But this man seems to be neither of these. He is confident and the details he gives are rich. He seems to know of what he speaks – he carries authority. (C – Weak at best. Why does the speaker not take a firm position? Wouldn’t that be a lot more interesting? Cut – ‘seems to be neither of these. He’)
Cain had seemed restless all evening. (D – Using the word to offer an interpretation of someone else’s point of view makes for boring fiction. There is plenty of room for me to delete the word, replace it with been, and be descriptive.)
The question seemed to please Him. He smiled and turned to look at me… (D – The speaker is making the judgment (kind of) and then giving the evidence that He is pleased. This is unnecessary. No reader is going to disagree. Change to: The question pleased him.)
As we sat, the smoke from the fire curled into the trees, seeming to quiet the calls and chirps. (F – Delete the word and rephrase the sentence. Seeming is bringing no value. Besides, is it likely that the smoke is actually causing the birdsong to silence? No. The word is injuring the truth of what is happening and deadening the clarity.)
The scent was full and crisp; it seemed to spread inside me, filling my chest. (F – This is the worst possible usage. The speaker is in his own point of view. Seemed is carrying zero weight and adding no clarity. Hit the delete key. Cut ‘it seemed to’.)
You seem to get the idea.