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As the title says, I am having trouble describing a group standing around 3/4ths of a rectangle. This is what I have written The students stood along the sides and far side of the stage, creating a wide U-shape facing the door.

I am sort of imaging something like this:

enter image description here

Is there a better way to phrase/describe this?

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  • Without context as to why the formation is important to the story, it sounds like you might be overthinking this. If it's not important, scratch it. Trust your readers to paint the scene in their own minds. If it's integral, ok, but you're running the risk of broadcasting BUT THEY LEFT AN ESCAPE ROUTE ON ONE SIDE MWAHAA. In these frustrating cases, less is more. "The students crowded the front of the stage en masse, spilling to each side with buzzing anticipation, each vying to get as close as they could."
    – kmunky
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 1:02

5 Answers 5

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I can think of some better ways to phrase this. One idea might be: "The students stood on all but one edge of the stage in a U-shape so that all of them could face the door." You could also say: "The students stood in a U-shape, lined up on all the stage's edges except for the outer edge, all the students facing the door."

A good way to do descriptions like these is by making sure that you separate different details with commas so that it's not all one confusing block. It is also important to add word variety to your descriptions because it also helps differentiate details.

One note I will make about your original idea for phrasing is that saying "the students stood along the sides and far side of the stage" is confusing. The far side counts as one of the sides, right? That's why in my descriptions I used the word "edge." It's easier to describe the different edges of a stage than different sides of a rectangle because the word "sides" can be confusing in certain contexts (when you talk about the sides of a stage, I immediately think left and right, not left, right, front, and back).

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    Thank you very much for your suggestions! Those sound a lot better.
    – yukimoda
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 15:01
  • The open front part of the stage is called the proscenium, if you suspect your audience will know the term. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 20:28
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Leave out the bits that don’t add anything. If it’s already established that the stage is rectangular, there is no need to mention the ‘U’ shape as that is inevitable if the are lining the edges of the stage.

The students arranged themselves around three edges of the stage, facing the door.

You could add information about what manner they did this in

With an eerie, silent smoothness the students took their places around three sides of the stage, facing the door, moving like slowly waltzing somnambulists.

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  • You could also say "along three of the four edges of the stage" to make it even more explicit.
    – Stef
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 22:30
  • @steph I think that gets you into the same issue of a clumsy description. Most stages are rectangular, so that would be a reader’s default assumption. If for any reason that isn’t clear then it can be mentioned earlier, when the stage first features in the story. All the information doesn’t have to be in the same place. I think it’s adding bits like you suggest, to be ‘explicit’ that leads to clunky sentences. Some things can be just implied.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 8:26
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I would go with something like "the students surrounded the stage, forming one long wall of bodies", or "with the precision of a military drill, the students took their places on the rim of the stage. The deviation from one student to the next could not be measured for lack of a unit small enough; so there they stood, noiseless and alert and unsettling in their complete uniformity."

I think it's a mistake to focus too heavily on the geometry of the setup, by which I mean the fact that three and not four edges of the stage have students on them. I for one think such writing exhibits more "tell" than "show"; if such details are truly important to the story, then it shouldn't be too hard to show them via characters' actions. Perhaps somebody on the stage feels creeped out by these students (understandable really), and in casting their gaze about for any sign of relief, their eyes alight on the only gap in the fleshwall...

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It probably won't help you directly when writing in English, but I'll just mention that you'll find this very easy to express this in Hebrew (maybe for a future translation). The Hebrew letter ח (Chet), which has this exact shape, is very commonly used to denote this popular formation for standing at attention in the military or during a ceremony. In Israel, pretty much anyone would understand the short sentence "לעמוד בח", translated as "Stand in [the shape of] Chet".

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    I like this. It may not be useful for all writers, as you admit, but it's good to see an answer that considers non-English-language writing.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 12:19
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How about:

The students encircled the stage on all sides except one, leaving a noticeable gap in the perimeter closest to the door.

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