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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.

I admit, I’m a little bit in love with Amber, myself.

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?