Those pesky damn descriptions. You know what your character looks like, but how is the reader supposed to?
It's been almost a hundred years since Dashiell Hammett could get away with stopping the action for most of a page every time he wanted to describe Sam Spade or anyone else. And if you ask me, it didn't really work then. Less than ten years later, Raymond Chandler was using leaner, more poetic descriptions.
I'm too lazy to get up and get Chandler off the bookshelves, so here's one from the table beside me, Earnest Hemingway describing Brett from The Sun Also Rises:
Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover hersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy's. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.
That's all the physical description one of the three major characters gets. Robert Cohn has glasses and a broken nose and not a lot more. And our narrator, Jake? Your guess is as good as mine.
And to my way of thinking, that's a pretty good way to go. Thomas Harris uses it with Clarice Starling. Everyone admits she's good looking (including herself), but that's it. Hair color? Eyes? Height? WHo cares?
She doesn't stop in front of mirrors, pause to admire photos of herself, or take time out for ridiculous conversations about her appearance. You know the ones:
"Hi Clarice. How is a girl like you, five-six with shoulder-length blond hair and eyes like a winter sky, trim and athletic without losing your curves, not have a boyfriend?"
"Probably all the serial killers I work with, Bob."
We've all read that kind of crap, and worse. And notice those verbs I used: stop, pause, take time out.
Description kills action. Be careful with it.
See what I mean? The time to've done that kind of descriptive brickwork is before ActionBoy gets near that altar.
For me, it's a hard and fast rule that no character describes themselves. I can probably count on one hand (and have five fingers left over) the number of times I've had my mind on a problem but took time out to think about my looks in a mirror, or to admire convenient photos of myself. Or discussed my looks with others.
Actually, that's not quite true. Way I look, it's a subject for discussion. But that's "How'd you get your dreads like that?" and "Those tattoos hurt?" or "Hey cool! I've got a tattoo too, want to see it? It's waaay down here..."
And that's a legitimate way to paint a picture in the reader's head. Another is, if you're not writing in first person, to let the viewpoint character in that chapter describe the others. Elmore Leonard uses it brilliantly.
Otherwise, leave it alone. One of the best suspence novels EVER, Rebecca, not only doesn't tell us what the heroine looks like, it doesn't even tell us her damn name!
In comics, this isn't an issue. Ink, paper, character set in stone. Every reader sees the same lines and shapes, the same character. Tin Tin is Tin Tin, Archie is Archie, and it takes zero time to look at them on the page and see em there.
Movies are the same. They freeze stuff, close it off to interpretation. Clarice is Jodie Foster, end of story. Too bad Julianne Moore, she's still Jodie Foster. Nice writing Thomas Harris, but we'll be seeing Jodie Foster when we read.
In prose, we have more flexibility. Shame not to use it.