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How to describe something in the shortest way possible


As a writer, Sometimes i might sturggle to find the words to something cause although i know what it looks right, it's not easy to jot down words that visualizes it clearly. like for example, there's this certain way a person carries someone. i know what it means but there's no word or phrase to describe it. a simple google search gave me this

but considering this might take a paragraph to describe the image, i refrain from it.


Myth Weaver
Carefully... [that is only half meant as a gag answer. To describe this position fully would not be concise, but what would it add?]


"Helping him walk"

Sometimes you don't need a specific term or a lengthy description of every detail. Just think about it practically. What is that guy doing? He's helping the guy walk. That phrase implies that hoodie guy is in a state where he has trouble working, likely causing the reader to imagine someone limping with their head down and their arms limp. And friend guy is using his arms to steady hoodie guy while keeping his sight up since he's watching the way for both of them. Plus, that descriptor describes their motivation/goal: hoodie guy needs help, friend guy is helping him.
All summarized in three words.
A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Maybe you are trying to describe the wrong thing. Maybe walking isn't the key action. So you might say something like

Frank draped Carlton's arm around his shoulder and guided him to his bunk.​

Well, there's no bunk in that picture, heh, and they are outside. So maybe he guides him to his apartment building, about a hundred yards. Because Carlton's drunk—this is where context helps because knowing Carlton is drunk or otherwise unable to walk on his own would make the idea of draped arm + guiding build this picture for the reader.

You could work in some variant of walk. Let's say you are writing from Carlton's perspective:

Frank helped him stand and draped his arm over a shoulder. "What happened, man?"

Carlton heard the question but had no answer. Carlton didn't know. Was it poison? Wait, had he been drinking? What was Frank doing here, anyway?

He stumbled against Frank as his friend pulled him along. He couldn't seem to stand on his own, and more than once he almost brought Frank down with him. Each time was a moment of terror—or a moment for laughter. What the heck, man? But Frank was strong and steady. After a long time, Carlton's head began to clear, and he realized they were standing outside his apartment building.​

So you can describe more than the simple act of walking but still get the image across. [Edit: i.e., stumbling, which is a standing movement related to the idea of walking, if not walking itself.] Is this "the shortest way possible?" It's a longer passage. But there's more context in this example. The description is spread out here, interspersed with other things to give it context. The two key phrases here:

  • ...draped his arm over a shoulder.
  • He stumbled against Frank as his friend pulled him along.
So that's fairly short. The sense of movement forward is implied through "more than once..." and "after a long time." Dunno if those count for the description of the general activity or are additions for the general narrative there.
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I think sometimes language is just not sufficient to really communicate thoughts. Often I have a scene clearly in my head, but what I get on paper is only a rough approximation of what I imagined. Very often, it is just something completely different instead and I wonder why did it not really match up.

I think in the picture above, I would call that 'shouldering his friends weight', and helped him to walk. I think helped him to walk would be sufficient cause reader are very familiar with an image like that.
It all depends on what you are trying to describe, why you are trying to describe it, and whether it is something you feel needs to be described with fidelity—for that point in the story.

Frank helped Carlton to walk.

Frank guided Carlton to his bunk.

Frank pulled Carlton along, trying not to stumble under the weight of his very drunk friend.

For me, "shortest possible" depends on what is required for the story at that point. It may also depend on chosen authorial style. What may be required may be at odds with some objective "shortest possible" — more words might be required to build the image that seems necessary to the narrative.


Some more thoughts on this, cause I see this was not really about the picture above.

I tend to describe things in very minimalist standards. Sometimes that actually hurts me. I tend to think what would the character see and what would be important to them, and often, that is not very much. I have seen many authors tell me about the denseness of a forest or the purple color of the mountains. Often, those paragraphs are long thick dense blocks of text, and in my brain, I just kind of go...trees, mountains, got it. And I skip it. When writing I do the same. I am sure the room has a lot of things in it, and I could go on to describe its contents in mundane detail, but often, I just leave it undefined, or say just as little as I can to say the type of room it may be. But most things would be mundane to the character and so they would not pause on them. I would not either, unless for some reason it may matter.

If I do describe things, I tend to do so for mood painting, or because it is unusual in some way.

With actions, again, its not really the blow by blow that matters, it is if the reader get a sense of what is going on more so than just the actual details. Much more important than where the sword snuck in and vanquished the opponent is why it was important to be fighting in the first place. If I feel the gravity, I care. If it is improving something in the story, such as characterization, or theme, then I let it work. If its just a blow by blow, meh, end it quick and move on.

Readers bring a lot to the story on their own, so the example above, many readers don't need description to get an image in their head. As a writer, we need to count on that to cut the words down. Readers can be trusted, they will get the images right, or at least near approximations. So that is good enough.

If you are getting feedback along the lines of 'what?' or 'I could not figure out what you meant here', then I suppose it does need to be explained better.
I think sometimes language is just not sufficient to really communicate thoughts.

I think our language is very clunky, as unwieldy as that very drunk friend needing to be guided/carried/pulled along.

What carries it, guides it, pulls it along? Heh.

Context helps greatly. Sometimes, the simple, short, apt phrase stabs right at the point, but often we need context to communicate what is really happening.

Readers bring a lot to the story on their own, so the example above, many readers don't need description to get an image in their head.

Also, language and concepts and experiences are often shared, so the reader brings context. That helps.

I do think that a general guide is to carefully consider what is the aim of the writing. We don't need lengthy descriptions of things...when we don't need them, heh. A consideration of what is most important to communicate will help as a guide, and this aligns with your other points.


toujours gai, archie
Words are not pictures, and vice versa. (now, try doing *that* sentence with a photo!)

Even when I can picture something in my head, I don't aim to put that exact image into words. The purpose of fiction writing is not so much to describe as to evoke. There's no way for me to know how you (or you, or you over there) will picture what I've written. All I can do is choose the words, craft the sentence, place it in the paragraph, set into the narrative. The picturing part is done by the reader, not by the words themselves.

I might try describing supporting my friend in a mere phrase. On the other hand, I might describe helping him to his feet, draping his arm around my shoulder, the weight of him, the smell, how other people look at us, and so on. It all depends on the story and what I'm trying to evoke in that moment. If I've set the scene--the friend is drunk or injured or ill--then it may be that I need only say I helped him to his feet and gave him my shoulder to lean on.

I disagree with other comments here. English is a marvelously rich language with a plethora of words from which to choose. And yes, El Guapo, I do know what a plethora is. :)


Myth Weaver

The world refused to focus before Gary's bleary eyes. Remaining erect took immense effort. And walking - well, good thing he could lean on Bob's shoulder.


Article Team
Context helps greatly. Sometimes, the simple, short, apt phrase stabs right at the point, but often we need context to communicate what is really happening.
Indeed. In this case the context will dictate how much additional information is needed.

If the reader already knows what's happened, a short description might be enough. If it's the start of the story, we may need to know not just what's going on, but also with who, and why.

Even when I can picture something in my head, I don't aim to put that exact image into words.
I like this approach.
I try to give the reader only as much information as they need to create a workable image in their mind. The way things look aren't all that important. It's more about the impression and the feeling of the situation than anything else.

As for how to describe what's going on in the image above...
Maybe something like this:
Roy pulled Steves arm over his shoulder and dragged him off down the street.

Another question to ask is how important it is that the readers knows that this is how they look? Could it be enough to know that Roy's supporting Steve? Maybe like this:
Supporting his friend as best he could, Roy dragged Steve along, struggling to keep him upright.
I would write: The dude support Kevin. He took Kevin’s arm and put it around his neck. Oh! Hopefully, there was no hot chick. It's so embarrassing!, Kevin hobbled. He shouldn't have skated that handrail along. What has it brought? Right. Nothing but a broken leg. Great! So much about becoming cooler.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
We actually have almost this exact walking situation happen in the first chapter of Faerie Rising...

Through the doorway walked Giovanni and Katherine, though ‘walk’ might have been too casual a description. He leaned heavily on her smaller frame, his dark skin ashen even in the dim light, but she bore his weight easily with her right arm about his lean waist, holding both his and her jackets in place against his back. Katherine kicked the door closed behind her and showed Winter her face, fair beneath the thick spray of blood that glittered on her skin and hair.

S J Lee

I think describing it EXACTLY as regards which limb goes where and when is a mistake, unless you are describing some exact combat move etc, and even then you would only do it because it makes things seem "real", eg, the woman throws the man to the ground... seems fake unless you explain how she did it etc. IF you DID want to do so, why not draw it and write a comic book/graphic novel? But in writing, you can do things the picture CANNOT make clear - surely that is what we should exploit? Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses?


Mike saw Daniel limping, then hopping, along, unable to walk but too proud to ask help. Wordlessly, he supported him, ducking under Dan's arm and draping it round his own shoulder. Daniel did not resist, but Mike saw his pride rising. I'll have to make a joke of it, or he'll feel humiliated. "I guess what Sara said was true. Your middle leg is as big as a whole leg!" etc..................