Does the suspect have a livid dueling scar down the side of his face that prevents his eyelid fully closing and permanently twists his lip into a humorless grimace? Tell us immediately. (Mainly so we can stop reading such a cliche-ridden tome right there.)
Does he have small, white, star-like scar from a childhood skating accident beneath the hairline on the back of his neck? Wait until the story of that event -- which you described so vividly in your 50-page preparatory mini-essay about the character -- becomes a crucial part of the plot. Oh, here's a clue: it won't.
But one of the dullest ways to give this essential information is the "identikit" approach -- plainly listing height, weight, hair, eye-color, etc. How much better to nail all that with one line that plants the mental image instantly and economically.
|Hoagy, not Stokely|
One step further is to find a shorthand account of a person's appearance that also helps establish character. From Wodehouse (of course): "He was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'when!'"
And to get back to this post's title, that's why I really liked this stray line from last week's "Saturday Night Live," describing Nancy Pelosi: "A woman who always looks like she's watching someone not use a coaster." I wish I'd written that.