How important is describing facial features in fiction? We were having a discussion about this today in a writing workshop. I use to think you needed the paragraph when writing a story. The info dump describing face, hair, clothes etc of your principle characters. Then over time I realised, even as a reader, that was tedious and it was much preferable to have well-placed pieces of information scattered through the storyline.
Then again, is it important at all? I think it’s important to keep mannerisms, habits and the way characters talk consistent as this helps the reader identify with them. But on a basic level, I don’t really care or mind if David Copperfield is blond, brunette or ginger. Obviously if race or certain physical attributes are vital to the storyline (someone that gets by on good-looks, a maniac with lifeless eyes, a mixed race protagonist facing racist abuse) then these should be clarified quickly. But otherwise it doesn’t really matter. When I read books, although I do visualise the scene and characters, they tend to be vague and difficult to pinpoint, much like if asked to precisely describe a scenario or person from memory.
Coming from a slightly different angle I also think it’s really hard to describe physical attributes and faces in particular without falling into the cliche traps. Eyes are either doe-like, soulful and bright or narrowed, sharp and beady. Lips are full and pouty or thin and mean. Eyebrows are nearly always arched quizzically. Skin is smooth, radiant and snowy or lined and craggy. It’s very hard to think of an original angle without becoming a mockery of what you are attempting to emulate.