A reader wants to see the characters that they read about. They have to use words to form a mental picture of him or her. It is the writer’s task to give them what they want. Sandra Brown, in her novel “Richochet,” used her words in this way to paint a picture:
“To anyone who didn’t know him, Robert Savich looked like a respectable business man with a slightly rebellious flair for fashion. For court today he was dressed in a suit of conservative gray, but the slim tailoring of it was distinctly European. His shirt was pale blue, his necktie lavender. His signature ponytail was sleek and glossy. A multicarat diamond glittered from his earlobe.”
Can you see Robert Savich? The details are important to properly portray your character. At this point we don’t know his eye color or whether he’s blond or brunette. We don’t know how tall he is. But we know what he’s wearing. And up to that point in the novel, that’s enough.
In my novel “A Moving Screen,” I painted a picture of Louise Canola:
“With her dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and slender body, Louise was striking. Pretty in a different sense—the combination of everything about her working together— she’d come to think of herself as just okay. Her figure was not flawless, but good nonetheless. And she got double takes often enough to know she appealed to the opposite sex. Not that she was interested. She’d been in love once and that was enough.”
Can you see Louise?
Using descriptive words to ‘show’ a character gives a reader the satisfaction of getting to know them. It’s like making a new friend or an enemy. One really wants to recognize them the next time one sees them and be able to describe them. What characters say also give the reader the opportunity to breed familiarity. Dialogue is important.