When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? Take a moment, and think about how you’d describe yourself. If I were going for strict facts, I’d say I’m an Asian female, five-foot-one, brown eyes, dark hair, slight build, no visible distinguishing marks. That sounds a bit boring, doesn’t it? But, describing me as “a quirky techie with a rippling laugh and lopsided smile” doesn’t exactly help in forming a physical image for a reader’s eye.
The first physical description I have for my (current) MC comes about 3000 words in [first draft], and it only consists of him “[running] his fingers through his jagged, shower-damp hair [and checking] the closeness of his shave.” Aside from that, I wanted to let the characters speak for me: a local girl giggles at his attention, his best friend describes him as “a vain bastard bordering on narcissistic”, and the love interest calls him “the finest thing [she’d] ever seen.” He’s a surfer and a runner, so he’s got an athletic build, and he looks down at people a lot, so he’s tall (and something of a jerk, but that’s not relevant to this post).
Conversely, the MC describes the woman he loves in all kinds of detail, most of it physical and visual.
Some folks say the mirror is an overused (bad) convention and shouldn’t be used for describing your main character. But what’s a good middle ground between overused and imprecise? What conventions do you use to describe your MC?