I'm an amateur, freelance editor and I'm currently working on a MS. The author uses "the air was thick with anticipation" frequently and I can't seem to find a replacement phrase for this specific passage that's suitable.

A little context: in the scene I'm working on now, there's an argument between two major characters; two women who are leaders of a group of people. The argument is very intense and after one walks away, they calm down and go into a room to talk privately and resolve the situation. The group of people they lead are waiting for them to return. The text in question currently says:

The air on the main level grew thick with anticipation as the band awaited Jezz and Lilly’s return. So far, twenty minutes after Lilly had ascended the stairs to work things out with Jezz, there had been no yelling or raised voices. Katalina took that as a good sign as she sat in the high backed chair by the hearth, fiddling with the frayed seams. No one spoke, but everyone could feel the anticipation that hung thickly in the air.

I'm looking for a phrase to replace the end of the final sentence. It's not necessarily a hopeful situation, but it's also not negative. More nervousness or anxious anticipation. I've looked over a few Q&As on here and the most frequent suggestions I'm seeing are "dread" and "trepidation" which set a rather negative tone that I don't feel apply to this specific scene. Any suggestions would be wonderful. Thanks!

  • 7
    Is an MS a manuscript? Anyone, everyone could feel the tension in the air. FYI, a much better place for questions like this is our sister site, Writing. On EL&U we close "writing advice" questions (we're more about grammar, etymology, orthography, that kinda stuff).
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 23 '15 at 17:15
  • Yes. Sorry; I use MS so much that I forget there are a lot of people who aren't as used to the acronym as I am. Oh! I just found this site today and loved it, so I'll definitely check out your sister site! Thanks for the info, and the help! (:
    – Alexz
    Sep 23 '15 at 17:20
  • Replacing "the anticipation that hung thickly in the air" with "the collective sense of expectation" in the final sentence of the quotation would at least avoid repeating the air-thick-anticipation triad from the first sentence. Cutting the quoted paragraph by at least one full sentence would improve it even more, in my opinion. However, that suggestion amounts to writing advice, which is off-topic at this site.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 23 '15 at 17:21
  • That's a great suggestion, thank you! This was an excerpt from the original piece, and I completely agree with you about removing a sentence. Thanks for the help!
    – Alexz
    Sep 23 '15 at 17:25
  • "The atmosphere was redolent with expectation."
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 23 '15 at 17:39

Maybe a phrase revolving around 'tension' could work. "The air was tense" or "the tension in the room was palpable," some variation like that.

The cliché "deafening silence" has some flexibility to it. Something like "the silence was fraught with unasked questions" could give the sense of anticipation you're looking for.


"the air was as thick as butter and the tension so sharp you could nearly cut it" which made everyone either unable or afraid of breaking the silence.

just FYI i'm not really all that good at helping others out with their writing i mainly just write for myself but i hope it can help

  • Hi Jasmine, welcome to our site! This is a very old question, and the asker has almost certainly found a solution by now. In addition, the existing answer already suggests using an expression involving tension. To add value to our site, perhaps you could edit your answer to add some additional "tension" expressions, or give examples in literature (do a google search) for the two metaphors you've suggested. You could also delete your second paragraph: we generally don't need to know anything about the person posting the answer. :-) Oct 29 '18 at 3:17
  • For further guidance, see How to Answer, and I can also recommend taking the short Tour of the site :-) Oct 29 '18 at 3:18

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