As a reader, do you like detailed physical descriptions of your characters? As a writer you can go nuts trying to decide: tall short, thin, long hair, red hair, bleached blonde, plain face, or Hollywood icon?
In answer to the question I refer to the book THE SUCCESSFUL NOVILEST: A LIFETIME OF LESSONS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLSIHING by David Morrell (creator of Rambo) With thirty years of writing and publishing experience, this is a barebone, practical book of advice. I have found this book to be one of my favorites; I’m giving it a second read through.
Morrell notes, “I believe that readers can do a lot more efficient job of imagining the look of characters than I can and that characters are best described by their actions.” (pg.147)
The objective details of a character’s appearance don’t matter as much as the emotions they imply, as Morrell explains. So how do we, as writers make that happen? Morrell suggests that we concentrate on a character’s emotional effect, the reader will supply the physical details. What do her clothes convey; polished or destitute? Does the character radiate power, intelligence, or sexual desire? What about the character’s posture?
The example is from Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA (translated by Rosemary Edmonds). The main character is full of life, friendly, and her smile shows this.
“Her brilliant grey eyes, shadowed by thick lashes, gave [Vronsky] a friendly, attentive look, as though she were recognizing him, and then turned to the approaching crowd as if in search of someone. In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the suppressed animation which played over her face and flitted between her sparkling eyes and the slight smile curving her red lips. It was as though her nature were so brimming over with something that against her will it expressed itself now in a radiant look, now in a smile.”