I did a word frequency analysis on my story. Unsurprisingly, the most over-used words often corresponded to passages where I was lazy with my description.

I'm tackling my over-used words "laughed" and "chuckled". For example, there is a paragraph:

"No 'we'll see', bring him around. I’m old, you have to listen to me." Abel chuckled. "Take care, Sara."

"Chuckled" feels rather generic; I don't want it repeating over and over. When I write "chuckle," I picture Morgan Freeman or Ian McKellen expressing with a faint chuckle mild delight with the humor of his previous statement and genuine caring for and approval of Sara. All the visuals and the character dynamics are there for me. I can see it vividly in my head, but can't find the words to express it.

I studied the thesaurus and failed to find alternate words to describe this interaction.

This is a specific example, but I'm sure every writer has their own words that just keep popping up over and over in their story. And it seems so natural and essential, I don't know how to fix it.

How do I remove the overused phrases, and what do I replace them with?

  • It sounds like what you're looking for is a single word request, which is handled over on English Language SE. I'll flag this to be moved over there. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 21:34
  • 3
    Here's the thing, though: swapping the word out in some instances may not actually be the solution to the problem. You can write "chuckled" once, "chortled" a second time, "laughed warmly" a third - and the reader might still find that repetitive! What I'm saying is: there might be better ways to solve your problem than re-writing these two lines of your story.
    – Standback
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 21:48
  • 1
    So I'd suggest you ask about your problem, and that would be totally on-topic for us, and I hope very helpful to you. Would you like me to edit your question to make it about the base problem, instead of asking to rephrase the particular line?
    – Standback
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 21:49
  • 1
    This Q/A might be useful: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/21387/… Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 22:40
  • 1
    @Standback Nice edit. Eric, I'm glad we have a question addressing this common problem. Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


Possibly the underlying issue is that you're trying to portray a particular sentiment or idea, and you keep doing it in the same way.

In your example, it seems that you're trying to show that Abel is attempting to get a serious point across and show his firm stance on a situation, but not being too strict or overbearing about it. Him chuckling after saying that sentence would certainly get that point across, but in order to get around the repetition, you may need to entirely restructure the sentence.

"No 'we'll see', bring him around. I’m old, you have to listen to me."

The glimmer in his eyes told Sara that he wasn't being serious, but she got the sense that if she failed, that glimmer would quickly fade to be replaced with something less friendly.

She nodded wordlessly, and he dismissed her.

"Take care, Sara."

Obviously it can be anything you want, but this shows that by restructuring the sentence a little, you can completely subvert the need for having to find a direct word replacement.

It's fine to repeat words over and over, every writer will have something that they constantly fall back on, the trick is to identify it (which you've already done). Then it's just a case of picking up on the those instances when you're editing, and remove a few to make the story more balanced.

In the future you may never use the word chuckled again because you'll be hyper-aware that it is one of the words you have previously overused, but at that point you'll probably write something else that becomes too abundant in your work. Then it will simply be a case of repeating the process for that word or phrase.


I would start by asking myself if that behavior 'types' the character or not. When other characters think of this character, is that the first thing that comes to mind? Is it part of the characterization? Then I would ask if the behavior or attitude I'm attempting to emote from that character can be expressed another way? Is the chuckle the typifying hallmark of this attitude and outlook on life? Or are there other ways to portray this?

Since you identify with specific actors, perhaps you could do some research to collect other scenes with these actors portraying the sorts of things that match your character's personality. This may give you some additional visuals to use as you are making your word choices.

Escalation or gradation is also a possibility. Someone who audibly chuckles every single time will have a certain feel to them, something the other characters (and you as the author, as well as any beta-readers you have exposed your work to) will recognize. Audibly chuckling all the time might actually be considered strange or weird, depending. However, feeling humor or attempting to project humor can be done a number of additional ways: a smile, a smirk, a rolling of the eyes, body language, narrative of the internal emotions, and more.

Just a few thoughts and methods to tackle this that I hope are helpful to you.

  • Seems spot on. I would ask "comedy or social critique"? Someone who adds a "chuckle" or "laughter" after everything is most likely not a well liked person....let alone the Dread Smirk. "They seem to know something we don't"... Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 15:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.