Are physical details representations of a mental state?
So, let’s see. I’m above average height; just a shade under 6 feet tall. Is my mental state tall? Do I walk around with the attitude of a tall man? Have I the confidence that being tall can give a person? I think that the answer to all these questions is yes. I’ve never been mugged or attacked in the street. At least, not since I grew up. That’s to say: I know the reasons why I was attacked, and they’re nothing to do with who I am now. Thugs mug people that look muggable. I don’t. It might have something to do with my tall-ness, but it’s more likely to be about the way that my mental attitude tells me to hold myself.
How about looking at the question from the other side. When I get angry, does this mental state manifest itself in my physical details? In other words, when I’m angry, do I look like a stereotypical angry man? Following on from that: if I was angry more often, would my physiognomy change permanently? Again, the answers are probably yes. Anger effects changes in posture, features, hormones, blood pressure and a host of other things in the body. Broken blood vessels, ruddy features, swollen knuckles, frown-lines, a turned down mouth and a hard set to the jaw might all be results of becoming an angry man.
What if we look at an innocuous feature of the physical form now: the colour of the eyes. Or perhaps even the colour of the skin. Do people with fairer skin and blue eyes share a mental state? Is there a propensity for people with another state of mind to share a particular shade of skin and colour of eyes? We’re getting into dangerous territory here. Police officers routinely profile people on the basis of their skin colour (although perhaps they don’t officially admit it). Statistically, they are perhaps justified in this, but, as we all know, statistics lie. Every statistical population plots out into a bell-curve. The bulk of the people in a population lie within the middle part of the curve, but it’s not fair to treat the whole population as if they are in this segment. The outliers: the ones towards the edge of the curve, do not share the features of those in the middle and here’s the important point: you can’t tell where someone is on the bell-curve by looking at the colour of their skin. In other words: people are individuals and need to be treated as such.
I guess my conclusion is that I want everyone to be treated as an individual. I think it’s lazy to lump someone in with a wider population just because he or she shares some physical characteristic with them. Not all muscular people are boxer, weightlifters or bodyguards. Not all skinny people have an eating disorder. Not all short people have a complex about it. Not all people with blue eyes and a thousand-yard stare are serial killers. I don’t want to write characters in my stories based on what they look like. I want fighters with delicate fingers, evil monsters with a good sense of humour, thin greedy people, fat athletic people and every other combination that could and would surprise you on the page. I want to write about people with delightfully surprising combinations of physical and mental characteristics. I’m going to throw out the stereotypes and invite real people into my stories; people like you, me and everyone else we see as we walk through this world of wonderful folk. Keep an eye out now, my friend; you never know when you might pop up in one of my tales.
Inspired by my opposition to advice in this article: https://www.scribendi.com/academy/articles/how_to_write_a_character_sketch.en.html