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There is a scene where a character is trying to be level-headed and professional. However, something happens that is funny to him. He lets out a satisfied chuckle but tries with partial success to hold it in as it is not entirely appropriate. The whole process is mostly subconscious. The viewpoint in the scene is a different character.

How can I describe that concisely?

I tried:

He stifled a satisfied chuckle.

He suppressed a satisfied chuckle.

but I'm not convinced that sounds good, or that it means exactly what I intend. What are some other options?

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  • 2
    Be that character, and imagine every single moment, including the emotional reaction. Now write. May 28, 2016 at 1:09
  • It's not of particularly high literary merit, but I've always been fond of /gigglesnort.
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 29, 2019 at 15:06
  • "Suppressed" leaves it unclear whether anything happened. (I'd probably assume nothing actually happened.) Maybe "cut short" or "choked back" would work better.
    – Jedediah
    Feb 28, 2022 at 20:30

6 Answers 6

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Personally, I think it's the "satisfied" that throws it out.

You could, perhaps try something like:

A small chuckle escaped before he could suppress/stop it.

He gave a small chuckle, briefly amused at something, before continuing on...

He snorted, a small grin flashing across his face.

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If you are in the student's viewpoint, here are some possibilities:

  • Write his opinions about:
    • what's so funny
    • what's so satisfying
    • what makes chuckling inappropriate
  • Say something like:
    • He stifled a chuckle.

    • He tried to stifle a chuckle.

    • He snorted.

    • ...
  • Write whatever he notices about any noise or expression he makes.
  • Write his reaction to whatever he notices
    • thoughts and emotions about whether the chuckle leaked
    • behaviors to cover it up
    • ...
  • Describe the professor's reaction to the stifled chuckle, which would indicate how successful the viewpoint character was in stifling it.

Some of this won't fit if the whole incident is truly subconscious. But then, if it's subconscious, you can't mention it from his viewpoint.

The thing you can do even if it's subconscious is describe the professor's reaction. This could trigger the student to realize that he just chuckled. Then you could write his reaction to that realization.

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  • Sorry, I wasn't clear about viewpoint. This is not the viewpoint character (updated my question to reflect that).
    – Eric J.
    May 26, 2016 at 23:02
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Here's my try:

He glanced up from the fire to see if Adeline looked inspired, or was at least paying attention, but he was only faced with a red Adeline trying hard to suppress her laughter, then failing when the King made eye contact with her.

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His eyes were bright and laughing above tight, withholding lips.

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  • Welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit the help center to learn how things work around here. The example you give is pretty good, if you can expand it out to a full answer with an explanation of why this is better it will improve your answer. Thanks for participating and happy writing.
    – linksassin
    Apr 1, 2019 at 2:13
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One way is trough dialogue.

"How unfortunate for all involved."

"Was... did you just smirk?"

"I wouldn't... dream of it."

"Why're you turning your back on me. Your shoulder are shaking. Oliver. Oliver!"

"I am. Simply enjoying the view. Yes."

"Damn you Oliver, this isn't funny!" I yelled at him, beating my fists over his back while his shoulders shook.

Or you can do it trough internal monologue.

I narrowed my eyes and stared down Oliver. Was. Was that a smirk just now. His face was the picture of professionality, but just a moment ago I could have sworn...

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Why make it concise?

“It is important to remind the Board of Directors here today—and thank you for your time, each of you—that our corporate image has been on the decline for near on three years now, and I want an end to it. I will move the Board to produce a solution to the declining morale within our ranks, to stop all this… unhelpful ‘online chatter.’”

Trevor had been barely successful at keeping his hand down. Now, it failed. “We can have a cow hockey tournament!”

What came out of me then could well have cost me my corner office, but the chortle my mouth liberated against my will was thankfully muffled under Abigail’s shrill cackle; which, with her accompanying bounce and dance, I suspect had led the Chairman to believe she had wet herself.


I personally don’t believe in using any words that don’t contribute to the story. If I do anything, and then also have to spend more words explaining what I did; I did it wrong.

The laugh should flow from the description of the scene and characters. It should not stand alone.

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