.One of the things new writers are most avid to learn is how to describe their characters' faces. Unfortunately, the one thing they least want to hear in reply is the simple truth: That it's best not to bother. Three quick details will do: blonde, zaftig, beauty mark near the lips -- Marilyn Monroe. You describe your characters best by describing their actions. The reader will provide the mental image for you.
As an example of the kind of things new writers want to learn how to write, here's a woman's face described by Anita Brookner in Hotel du Lac:
Her large spare face, perhaps a little too sparsely populated by a cluster of rather small features, shone with the ruddy health of an unsuspecting child. Everything about her gleamed. Her light blue eyes, her regular, slightly incurving teeth, her faultless skin, all gave off various kinds of sheen; her blonde hair looked almost dusty in comparison.
This is, you will note, not so much a physical description as a moral judgment. Jennifer, for such is her name, is a vacuous creature, selfish in her appetites (those incurving teeth!), lacking in both maturity and intellect, and attractive only to those who are not paying attention to anything but the surface.
This sort of description, already outdated when the above passage was written, descends from Victorian theories of physiognomy which were disproved long ago. It was retained as a convenient way the author could write about the character's personality indirectly. But it's not true -- we can't read a person's character from their face. How much easier life would be if we could!
It is marginally better to describe a character this way than by straight exposition: "Jennifer was the sort of vacuous woman who..."
But it is best to describe a character in fiction same way we learn it in life -- from their actions.
And on Monday...
The Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family has met in solemn conclave and decided the winner of this year's Godless Atheist Christmas Card Competition! Tune in Monday for not only the winner but the five runners-up (it was one helluva year) as well.