Generally, I think characters needn’t be described—not, at least, from within their own heads. People rarely think deeply about the color of their eyes or hair in the course of a day’s business; it feels awkward to push such a description in where it doesn’t belong, and when characters aren’t described, I usually just form an image of them that seems to fit their personalities. But I wonder sometimes how commonly readers do need some sort of description to ground a character, and how critical it is to either given a description in a timely way or give none at all.

In Rosedawn, I’ve never had Bren think about her own appearance in specific terms, but when I write her from other characters’ viewpoints, they describe her. When this happens, I find myself wondering how late in a story is too late for a first-time description. Late-given descriptions that don’t match whatever mental image I’ve formed of a character can throw me. (For example, when I read the end of Hannibal, I was startled to learn that Clarice Starling is a blonde. I had imagined her all through Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal as a brunette. Of course, I’d also [spoiler] imagined her as a law officer with a certain sense of professional integrity and not as someone who’d leave the FBI to bang Hannibal Lecter, so that was hardly the most jarring part of the end of Hannibal for me.) [end spoiler]

When you read characters who aren’t described, do you find it easy to form a mental image of them? Does it vary depending on the strength of the character? Would a late-given description annoy you—or would you just shrug it off and say “Oh”?