Gestures to Enhance Memoir, Realistic Fiction, Personal Narratives, Fantasy, and Vignettes

I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to the twowritingteachers team for providing this space to write, share, and grow.Slice of Life2

 

Using gestures in fiction writing can add telling details to our writing, bringing our characters to life in new ways. Consider what we learn about Mrs. Buell in the following excerpt and how something as simple as pushing up the sleeves of a sweater can stay with you, anchoring a memory.

From “Mrs. Buell” in Hey World, Here I Am! By Jean Little

In winter she wore the same sweater every day, a man’s gray one, too big,   with the sleeves pushed up. They kept slipping down and she’d shove them back a million times a day. Yet she never rolled up the cuffs to make them shorter. (p. 44)

Her going had left a hole in my life. Because I knew, for the first time, that nothing was safe – not even the everyday, taken-for-granted background of my being. Like Mrs. Buell, pushing up her sweater sleeves and giving me my change. (p. 46)

From “Mrs. Buell” in Hey World, Here I Am! By Jean Little

In winter she wore the same sweater every day, a man’s gray one, too big,   with the sleeves pushed up. They kept slipping down and she’d shove them back a million times a day. Yet she never rolled up the cuffs to make them shorter. (p. 44)

Her going had left a hole in my life. Because I knew, for the first time, that nothing was safe – not even the everyday, taken-for-granted background of my being. Like Mrs. Buell, pushing up her sweater sleeves and giving me my change. (p. 46)

Here is another example from The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis:

Me and Joey cracked up. Byron kind of chuckled and Momma put her hand over her mouth. She did this whenever she was going to give a smile because she had a great big gap between her front teeth. If Momma thought something was funny, first you’d see her trying to hide the gap, then, if the smile got to be too strong, you’d see the gap for a hot second before momma’s hand would come up to cover it, then she’d crack up, too. (p. 4)

“And Mrs. Watson,” said Dad, “you can’t possibly deny that this is your child. You can tell this boy has got a ton of Sands blood in him, look at those ears!”

Poor Byron. If he’d have known how far his ears stuck out to the side I bet he never would have gotten that butter!

Momma put her hand over her mouth and said, “Lord, don’t blame that on my side of the family, someone switched this child at the hospital!” (p. 98)

Did you notice the action of Momma trying to hide the gap between her front teeth when she smiled widely? This anecdote in the story about Byron getting that haircut. A “butter”  is a  1960s hairstyle that was popular with some African Americans.  It involved using caustic chemicals to straighten the hair so that it could be styled in different ways.

Here is a partial list from my notebook where I write sentences that include a gesture:

  • He touched his chin as thinking.
  • April shrugged her narrow shoulders. Then she shrugged them again.Enough said.
  • Little Johnny threw his hands in the air. “Daddy.”
  • He pressed his hair back with both hands. “My dad is going to kill me.”
  • She shoved her hands deep into her pockets and slouched, as if trying to hide.
  • She held her palm out to him. “Whatever.”
  • She stared at her feet. As if her fingers had a mind of their own, they played with her coat zipper.

Here is my attempt at trying it out in a story about an ex-jockey, Leo McMorrow. April was one of my best friends when I was in my teens, and she is another character in this story:

“What’s a tea cozy?” I whispered to April. I stole a quick glance. She was leaning slightly forward, her thin hair – the color of winter wheat – hanging limp and damp around her shoulders.   She shrugged her shoulders – one small movement – and continued to sit still and silent on the crooked wooden chair.  Perhaps she didn’t want to shift her weight on a fragile chair that was destined to be broken and discarded. But everything about April was understated.  I looked at her, waiting for some response. Another shrug. No words. She didn’t even glance in my direction. She was definitely my polar opposite, and I loved hanging out with her.

Try it out!  Make a list of gestures in your writer’s notebook. Return to drafts and even published pieces to try it out!

7 thoughts on “Gestures to Enhance Memoir, Realistic Fiction, Personal Narratives, Fantasy, and Vignettes

  1. This slice gives me an idea–I often write growing up stories. I need to include more gestures.
    Love the vignette at the end of this slice. I can really see April and her reticent gestures–the shrugged shoulders, the leaning slightly forward, the still sitting. Wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

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