Today I am going to be talking about physical appearance. I'll be honest, I am very picky about how books cover physical appearances. A trend I've noticed in romance and fantasy books is talking WAYY too much about the physical appearance of a character. Junk like, "Her chestnut auburn hair flowed through the wind and gently kissed her slightly tilted cheek as her silver bluish gray sea eyes gazed over the land, her porcelain hands clasped in front of her and her tiny but not-too-tiny pink lips opened slightly to reveal a row of perfect white teeth, as white as snow, and her skin glowed in the sun a nice pale tan."
Yeah. Ugh. I already think that there is no hope for romance stories, but this travesty must certainly be stopped in fantasy!
However, I also get annoyed when there is NO description of a character for chapters and chapters and then when you have pictured the character how you want, the writer comes and FINALLY gives a brief description of the character.
It's a very fine line. And here is how I think it should be settled...
Mention the physical traits the character can control, and in so doing, mention the traits they can't control.
For example, in 'Ember Flame', I pictured Hail Frost as scowling constantly, brooding, and cold. His facial expression would look rather cruel and cold, but it is merely a wall to keep his secrets in and people out. Physically, I always pictured him as nobly handsome; sharp nose, pale skin, combed black hair, and blue eyes. When Ember first sees him, she describes him as "cold" and "stony", and in so doing mentions his black hair and icy blue eyes. It helped add to his mysterious and distant aura.
I didn't mention that I thought he was handsome because 1) it kinda screams cliche. And 2) Ember would not notice that. At this point in the story, she is way too self-centered to even notice guys, and she's never been one to care about looks. So she would not note how good-looking someone was, only what she felt about the person. The first person to actually describe Hail as "handsome" would be Caran. I used her to say it because it emphasizes her superficiality.
So ya see? In describing the physical, something you have to do eventually in a novel, you can get across something of their personality, and also the narrator's personality.
Another physical you can use is clothing. Characters' pick and dress themselves, so clothing should be a reflection of who they are. It's that way in real life. I do NOT like frilly skirts/dresses, sparkles, sequins, etc. I'm not a very girly person. It's just not who I am.
One of the coolest aspects of Doctor Who to me, albeit a superficial one, is the clothing. I love how each time the Doctor reincarnates himself, he has to get a whole new wardrobe. Compare the ninth doctor to the eleventh doctor. The ninth doctor travels through time and space garbed in a plain T-shirt, a leather jacket, blue jeans, and close-cropped hair. The ninth doctor is definitely the angriest and most brooding, so his dark leather jacket and plain, unassuming T-shirt help emphasize his "stay back unless I want you near" demeanor.
Then there is the eleventh doctor. He's friendly, silly, a bit more eccentric than the other doctors, and compassionate. He wears a tweed jacket, a bow tie, tucked-in shirt, and his hair is nuts. Occasionally, he dons a fez or stetson to show how "cool" he is. His oddly classy way of dressing helps emphasize his eccentric, but approachable, nature.
If you don't use physical description well, it can seriously hinder your novel. However, if you use it effectively, it can help your readers get a much stronger grasp on your characters.