I’ve just been watching a man on the beach. He could have been me. He was the same shape and weight, he had the same hair or rather lack of hair. He chatted to some friends employing the same extravagant gestures which made Steve, one of my friends at the age of eleven, ask me if I was French. In the twinkling of an eye my doppelganger had wandered around the beach engaging many different people in conversation.
I saw the virtual double of the same friend Steve in the pub a year ago, although many years older than eleven. He looked incredibly alike in physique and looks. What astounded me, however, was how this man’s body language was virtually identical to Steve’s. He gestured in the same way, he emphasised facts in the same way, he even listened to other people as Steve does.
Seeing my mirror image on the beach got me thinking along a now familiar path.
The more I look at people the more I come to think that their appearance says a great deal about their personality. Men who look like me smile at toddlers and help them blow bubbles. Short and skinny men are often quick in thought and movement. I won’t go on.
I saw a man in a French town who looks like George Cole playing the spiv ‘Flash’ Harry in the 1950′s St Trinian’s Films. He’s a young man, he’s French, he’s almost certainly never seen George Cole in the part. Yet he acts and moves exactly like Cole. He even dresses like him.
Perhaps Shakespeare had it right.
Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.
Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2, 190-195
I find it useful to follow the idea of shapes mirroring personality when I’m plotting and planning. Yet, to use it too directly in my writing would make the character seem too much of a caricature.
It’s a fine balance. Get it right and you create an archetype. Get it wrong and you create a cliché.