Day 18 – Describing an Ancestor’s Physical Actions and Reactions



We’ve talked about the importance of showing and not telling. Describing the gestures and mannerisms of our ancestor is an excellent way to show the reader information about your ancestor in a subtle and unique way.

Take a look at these three sentences:

Example A

  1. Anna walked down the aisle.
  2. Anna glided down the aisle with her head held high.
  3. Anna shuffled down the aisle, staring at the floor.

These three sentences say the exact same thing, Anna goes down the aisle probably her wedding day. But in each one, we get an entirely different picture of what is happening by her gestures and mannerisms. The first sentence is pretty straight forward. It’s actually pretty boring, but maybe it is just about getting her down the aisle. Sometimes we do need to just get our ancestor from a to b.

Let’s take a look at two more sentences.

Example B

  1. Anna walked down the aisle, feeling happy and excited.
  2. Anna walked down the aisle feeling scared and uncertain.


In the first sentence,  Anna is excited to be getting married. However, the second sentence leans more to the opposite. But note the differences between these two sentences and those in Example A.  These two sentences tell us how Anna feels they don’t show us.

In the first example,

Anna glided down the aisle with her head held high.          

Anna is a woman in charge, confident and proud. It shows us with telling us.

The Anna of the third sentence is the opposite.

Anna shuffled down the aisle, staring at the floor. 

We can see she lacks confidence, perhaps has second thoughts, is nervous, we imagine that she barely makes it down the aisle.

Mannerisms with Meaning

Mannerisms can also be used to make an ancestor distinctive. An ancestor might always stroke his hair or fidget with his hat or chew on a toothpick. These actions can be an effective way of making an ancestor seem more familiar, as well as distinguishing one ancestor from another.

In addition to identifying an ancestor by quirks, mannerisms can also deliver more valuable information about who an ancestor is. Mannerisms can also reveal information about relationships between two characters.

For example:

Joseph patted Samuel on the back.

Joseph shook Samuel’s hand.

Joseph nodded at Samuel.

The manner in which we have chosen to write each of these sentences and the actions we have elected to show tells us something about the relationship between Joseph and Samuel.

A word of advice as you move forward with using gestures and mannerisms, don’t fall into the trap of overusing them. We don’t need to use gestures and mannerisms with every movement of every ancestor or character in our story. Try to use gestures and mannerisms for revealing important or unique information about your ancestor. Limit these gestures and mannerisms to show only actions that matter to the reader.