To what extent do you use physical attributes to communicate your characters' personalities to the reader? As I polish away, it occurs to me that there's a whole world of cliché just waiting to be drawn on as I give my villain a scar and a sharp suit, and my heroes spectacles and a limp.
Reading Stephen King's On Writing recently, I was pleased to find that I'm not alone in disliking exhaustive descriptions of main characters, especially when it comes to what they are wearing/driving/scrubbing with in the shower. I have deliberately kept such details to a minimum, but I know that many writer's feel differently.
If there's one thing that always make me want to close a book and go and do something interesting instead, it's being given precise details of a character's height and weight. Why on earth would I be interested to know that Guy is 170lb and 6 foot 2 in his socks? If he isn't a boxer or a reject astronaut, such dry statistics give me nothing. If the writer is trying to let me know that Guy is a big, healthy chap, then surely there's a more interesting way. And as for the calibre of weapons or a car's horsepower – please spare me. The most important thing about a gun is that it frightens or kills people. The rest is distraction.
In my writing, for now at least, I describe my characters only by dropping rare details into the text as and when they seem relevant, and the result is a great deal of freedom for the reader's imagination. It might be my background as an illustrator that makes me do this, as (ironically for someone who is used to depicting fiction characters) I've come to see that readers would much rather do the illustrating themselves, in their heads, without being spoon fed.
How do you approach this? Do you let the reader know about every mole on your hero's neck? And would you ever use a decimal number as a synonym for a pistol? Or would you ever not? And are you brave enough to let your heroine roam through an entire novel without ever revealing the colour of her hair?