Do Your Characters Snicker, Sniggle, or Snort?

Katy Lee here with a little tidbit about myself. Are you ready?

I love to laugh.

For me, there is no better stress reliever than a great big belly-laugh, especially in a moment where tension is running high.

Well, the same goes for my characters.

As a writer who puts her characters through some pretty high pressure situations, I want to carry over my love of laughter for them to break a little of their stress. (Even they need a breather sometimes.)

But I will admit writing laughing scenes is a big weakness for me. In fact, in my revision letter from my editor, she says my laughing scene is over the top and needs to go.


I’ll be honest, though, she is right. As writers, we know our weaknesses, and I know when the scene feels “off” or over the top, as my editor laid it out so poetically. Sometimes these scenes don’t mesh with the flow of the book, and in fact, bring the story to a jarring halt for the reader — and we don’t want that.

So, for this reason, I cut the scene and replaced it for the simpler tag line of just saying he/she laughed, which to me can sound boring. I tried to find better taglines to show the true emotion I was going for. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough description words to replace the word laugh.

Giggle? That just makes my heroine sound young and cutesy. Not always the persona I am aiming for.

Snort? I don’t mind doing this for my secondary characters, because it poses such a funny illustration, but I hesitate having my main character projecting this image.

Cackle? I suppose if there’s a character that is a little witchy, but again, not my main character.

Twitter? Sounds flaky to me.

And so, laugh it is. And that’s okay, because this is what I have learned through the process:

It’s more important that the reader laughs than to have your characters doubled over in hysterics.

The Unlocked Secret:  The tension release isn’t only for your characters in their stressful circumstances. The tension release is for your readers as they get pulled along in the story with your characters. A good comedian does not laugh at their own jokes. Their sketch is carefully created to build tension and emotion little by little. It’s all about timing the right words at the right place until the crystal clear visual evokes the emotion you are after, whatever that emotion may be.

Question: Do you have a favorite word to express laughter? Is there a book that has delivered the great stress relief of laughter to you?

22 thoughts on “Do Your Characters Snicker, Sniggle, or Snort?”

  1. So agree, Katy. It’s like ‘smile’–not enough similes. Snort just does not work, and giggle is embarrassing and way too juvenile. I struggle with “look” too, I have a lot of characters looking and glancing and watching and peering and some of the alternate words seem so very forced. Great post!

    1. Hey, Huntley! Nice to see you here. When I’m writing I will put in some of those “forced” words just to try them, but 9/10 times when I go back through in a reread, I change them back to simple words. At least I try. 🙂

  2. For my male characters they have the deep belly laugh and for the female characters there are times a giggle works. Don’t ask me why, but a lot a man get turned by a giggle from a grown woman. I think because it is unrestrained and natural, but they need to be used sparingly in a book.

    1. Yes, every now and then a giggle is cute and natural. The reader won’t close the book for that. And I do like when the man has at least one deep laugh in the book over something the heroine has done. 🙂

  3. Hmm… I write Rom Com so laughter does come into play in my books but there is an art to writing it. I think the laughter need to have a point, such as to make the hero or heroine, notice how laughter changes their beloved face. How it softens their features, or brings a light to their eyes or how the sound of it makes them fall a little more madly in love. I never thought about writing laughter scenes until you brought it up. It gave me something to think about.

  4. I run into overdescribing simple functions such as a laugh, in hopes of finding some new way to infuse power and life into my prose. In YA I can get away with an occasional giggle, snort, or snicker. But sometimes a laugh is just a laugh. Great post, Katy.

  5. Hi Katy,
    I use laughter in my books as well, but I write historical romance so my Lady would never snort! Good Lord, no! She may get away with a giggle behind her fan or behind a gloved hand, but perish the thought that she would ever snort or snicker. She will occasionally laugh, but her laughter may sound like music to my hero (keep in mind … historical romance). My hero may sometimes chuckle, but he usually has a hardy laugh that rumbles from deep within his chest. He would not snicker or snort … well, at least not in public anyway. The word that gets overused for me is “turned” and I am always looking for alternate words, but sometimes it’s the only word that works. Great post, Katy.

  6. I write mysteries, so giggling and snorting, chortling, and guffawing, are all best left to secondary characters and readers. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud, and P. G. Wodehouse was the first author I discovered that did that for me (as a grown up). These days I’m more likely to stumble across humor than seek it out. It’s always a delicious surprise when I find it! Great post today Katy!

    1. It IS a delicious surprise when you find a book that brings you to tears — the good kind. 🙂 And those are the books that you tell all your friends about.

      Thank you for your comment, Dehelen!

  7. When I have my editor hat on I see a lot of this, and I always suggest changing all of these words to “laugh.” As you’ve discovered, it’s just not attractive to have our hero or heroine snorting, giggling (this is occasionally OK for a heroine, but I wouldn’t allow her to do it more than once in a book), guffawing, snickering, sniggering, chortling, chuckling (occasionally OK for the hero, but he only gets to do it once). These words are fine for secondary characters, but they don’t make me love the hero/heroine. It really is true that the simplest, least obtrusive words are usually the best (i.e, “said.”). But that also means you have to work a bit harder with your dialogue or your descriptions of body language to get your point across. Good luck, Katy! I know you’ll get it shipshape in no time.

      1. I also don’t think heroes/heroines should ever “smirk” or say anything “smugly” or “snarkily.” Again, fine for secondary characters, but it’s so adolescent for MCs. It makes me dislike them.

  8. This is a wonderful post Katy. I like what Jamie said about how the laugh shows in the face and eyes. If there are lots of laughs, then you need to find different ways to show. But always, less is more, if you can show not tell. Right?

  9. Laugh seems to be the best word for it. I love to laugh, and as a reader, I love to read a book that has scenes that bring out my emotions, especially laughter. As you said, laughter is the best medicine.
    Good luck with your edits.

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