3

I don't want to straight up say that the dust/ ash was blown away, I want it to have a creepy vibe to it so it's more interesting.

So is there any way to show (not tell) ashes being blown away by the wind besides "the ashes were blown away"?

3

Describe how they were blown away, how much there is, the strength of the breeze etc. Was it a gust or a gale? Did it billow out in a gently cloud or did it blanket everything nearby in choking ash and dust? What senses can be impacted (sight, taste, sound, touch etc)

2

This is where the show don't tell doctrine becomes particularly pernicious. It is all telling. All you have is words. All words can do is tell.

To apply show don't tell to prose, you have to show A by telling B. So, if you want to show that Joe is nervous you replace telling us he is nervous:

Joe was nervous.

With telling something that shows he is nervous:

Joe chewed his fingernails and looked at his boots.

This is still telling. It is simply telling us a couple of facts that lead us to conclude another fact rather than telling us that fact directly.

If you appreciate this basic fact, then the show don't tell doctrine loses much of its power to confuse and dismay.

Of course, telling the reader A and B in order that they should conclude C is a very common technique in all of fiction, and, indeed, all of communication. It is powerful because when the reader reaches C by themselves, they own the conclusion far more than if you simply told the C.

On the other hand, it can be perilous. Two things can happen:

  1. The reader may get tired of you forcing them to do all the work and want you to get to the point faster. You don't need them to reach every conclusion for themselves, and they don't want to either. And where does it stop? Why not decide to tell them D and E and hope they arrive at A by themselves. But if you do, why not tell them F and G and let them get to D by themselves. This has to stop somewhere, and it always stops with telling.

  2. The reader may accept A and B and conclude Q rather than C. This happens all the time. It is why nervous authors often hedge their bets by showing and then telling:

Joe chewed his fingernails nervously and stared anxiously at his boots.

On of the reasons to be wary of adverbs is that they are often used by nervous writers to tell the reader what conclusion they are supposed to come based on what they have been told.

Which brings us to why you might not want to just tell the reader that the ash/dust was blown away. We know now what the procedure must be. If the ash and dust being blown away is C, what are statement A and B that will lead the reader to conclude that the dust is being blown away?

There are obviously a lot of things you could choose for A and B. But the real question is, what is the point. Show don't tell is most often invoked to show the character's emotional state by telling the reader what they are doing rather than what they are feeling. But that is not the issue here. The dust being blown away is already a physical action. What is gained by forcing the reader to work this out based on other physical actions that you tell them about?

1

The two words "dust" and "ashes" next to each other lead me to think of funeral remains.

If there's a particular significance to these dust and ashes, there could be a metaphor based on their absence or on fading memory (perhaps with the wind as the passing of time) that might do what you're hoping.

Alternatively, if the wind isn't significant or apparent, you could achieve "creepy" by having them appear to move away under their own power.

1

You could use the word "flurry":

flur·ry

/ˈflərē/

noun: flurry;

plural noun: flurries

  1. a small swirling mass of something, especially snow or leaves, moved by sudden gusts of wind. "a flurry of snow"

synonyms: swirl, whirl, eddy, billow, shower, gust, "snow flurries"

verb

verb: flurry; 3rd person present: flurries; past tense: flurried; past participle: flurried; gerund or present participle: flurrying

  1. (especially of snow or leaves) be moved in small swirling masses by sudden gusts of wind. "gusts of snow flurried through the door"

It's a word that, to me at least, projects innocence and nostalgia, so when used to describe ashes, might evoke the discomfort and creepiness you seek.

1

You can place the experience (almost) entirely inside the PoV character. On the fly example of what I mean:

The flecks blew past, impaling her, like the attack of 1000 rabid dogs, pulling her into their raving insanity. She fell into it - into the place she'd ...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.