Since I'm the type of person that doesn't use a word over and over again, it turns my masterpiece into a synonym dictionary (Kind of like a thesaurus.)

If I used the words 'informal conversation' two times in a chapter, I resolved to use another word to replace it but it turns out the word isn't often used and no one knows the meaning. For example, 'Colloquialism' also means informal conversation but when I read it to my friends, they didn't have a clue what I was talking about. One thing I remember them saying was "Talk English!"

I want to change this habit but each time I type, it becomes even harder to understand. I don't want to sound condescending or repetitious yet I don't want to sound like a person that is out of vocabulary.

How do I fix this problem?

  • 9
    Your problem is that the words don't mean what you think they do. A colloquialism isn't an informal conversation. A colloquialism is used in informal conversation. Don't just root through a thesaurus and use whatever shows up there. The alternatives are often only related words, not replacement words. You must know the meanings before you use the words. If you don't understand them, then you will use them incorrectly and confuse your readers.
    – JRE
    May 7, 2021 at 13:31
  • 4
    Look up and read the short story "Dogwalker" by Orson Scott Card. There's a character in that story with the nickname "Goo Boy." He does what you do - use words that don't mean what he thinks they mean. He rarely gets called on it because lots of people don't know what the mean, either. Then he runs into someone who does understand all the fancy words and looks like a fool.
    – JRE
    May 7, 2021 at 13:37
  • 1
    Thanks. I'll try to fix them with my editor. May 7, 2021 at 13:42
  • 2
    The words you want are probably not in a formal document like a thesaurus: an informal conversation is a chat, some chitchat, a gabfest, a kaffeeklatch, some coffee talk, small talk, girl talk, water cooler conversation, shooting the breeze, shooting the shit, just gabbing, locker room talk .... plenty more. May 10, 2021 at 15:26
  • 3
    My point is that you are right not to keep using the same words, but that it is almost impossible to look up good synonyms. You need a large vocabulary to find substitutions, and to understand the nuances of meanings in possible substitutions. May 10, 2021 at 17:00

2 Answers 2


The comments to your question are quite on point, and could probably serve as answers. I'll suggest that you also consider something else - which might not truly fix your issue, though.

If you find yourself repeatedly having your characters take part in "an informal conversation", why isn't it already clear to the reader, that that is what is happening?

This could be a case of 'show don't tell', as in, make it clear from the behaviour, topics, and language of the characters taking part, whether it is formal or informal.

Now, the reader may not actively experience the conversation, and in that case, the following doesn't help as much, however, if you're unsure how to make a conversation seem formal/informal, think of the difference between how you talk to a friend, a sibling etc, and perhaps a doctor, a teacher, your boss, whatever...

If that's difficult, I'll give a few examples of things that can make a conversation seem/feel informal;

  • Joking, whether it's inside-jokes, freestyling, being silly...
  • Allowing random interruptions, somewhat equally from the different parties involved. (In formal settings, usually there's a superior or semi-authority - interruptions would generally be tolerated from that person, not against them).
  • Changing the topic, talking about private or non-work-related things (or not related to which-ever context the conversation takes place.)
  • Flirting (though, it does happen in formal settings) - Can be closely connected to joking.
  • Having no clear goal with the conversation, like "what's the plan for the sale of x, the strategy of x war, the implementation of the new computers in classroom 3" and so on...
  • Questioning/challenging opinions, suggestions, understandings, and so on...
  • It is generally more relaxed - people usually associate informal conversations with being themselves, rather than meeting certain expectations of 'appropriate behavior'.

These are just some of the things that often characterise informal conversations. That being said, all people converse differently, uniquely, and some people have a tendency of making otherwise formal settings slightly less formal. They implement some of the things above for different reasons. Maybe they can't help themselves but make that joke, maybe they purposely joke about the thing that everyone else takes (too) seriously, maybe they know that their boss is also just a human being, meaning that their understandings, experiences and input are of equal value, and so on...... This could/should be considered or naturally shown when your characters interact.

So, to sum up: maybe the issue isn't that 'informal conversation' should sometimes be swapped with 'chat, small-talk, catch-up, gossip'-what-have-you, but that something is being told, which would benefit from being shown.

Upon re-reading the title of the question, I realize that this answer may in fact be slightly off-topic - here's a counter-point; Even if your 'informal conversation' was simply an example, the same thing could apply to any other situation. In case my answer is of no use to your particular situation, hopefully someone else will find it useful.


The repetition of words in writing isn't strictly a mistake as @storbor observes in his excellent answer.

The guidelines are that the more common the word, the less a writer needs to be concerned with repeating it. Just count the number of times this answer has used 'the' as evidence that repeating a word isn't the problem.

Clarity and specificity are paramount in writing. And if that means using the word forest three times on a page, then that is what is required. Synonyms can be substituted if and only if they mean the same thing, but using woods, piney desert, mob of trees in place of forest impinges on clarity and specificity.

When people give you feedback about using a word too much, the real question to ask is why I am using forest so much. If my scene has setup that I'm in a forest, is there are need to reinforce it. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Context is king.

If you can strike out one or more usage of forest and still convey the story the desired tone and clarity and specificity, then that is the correct solution.

If all the uses of forest are needed, and your forest is a common and well understood word, then don't worry about. Throwing synonyms in to shake things up will draw the reader's attention out of the story and on to the author which is a hallmark of poo-tastic writing.

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