Whenever I’m reading a book, it’s hard for me to put a face to the character if the writer doesn’t describe anything. I know there’s a crowd that says to leave it off, leave it up to the reader’s imagination or imagine herself.
I don’t imagine myself in the character’s place. If I don’t get a description of the character, it’s a missing piece of the characterization for me.
Not only that, it gives control of an aspect of the story up to the reader.
Even non-fiction tales about people describe the people as part taking the reader back into that world of the past.
If someone walks up to you, don’t you look at them? See what they look like? Maybe notice that the clothes don’t fit or that they lost weight? Don’t you form an opinion about that person?
The problem is how description of characters is taught. As an exercise, separate of a character’s point of view and separate of the story. It’s like a mug shot:
He had brown hair and his eyes were blue. He had to be over six foot tall. He wore a black suit.
He was a big guy. Made me feet short, and I wasn’t short. Hair shaved to hide he was going bald. He wore a black suit, but had gotten it off the rack without looking in the mirror. Shoulders pulled wrong, button strained. The pants hem pooled around his ankles.
Some of the particularly memorable writers I’ve read have been that because they described both the setting and the characters.
And just for fun, here’s a picture of what Ian Fleming thought James bond looked like.