Questionable: Description, Yes, No, Lots, Little?

Kate asked:
What types of description do you think are needed in novels, and what do readers just skip over? Do readers like to know she has brown eyes and a dimple?

My take on needed description is “not much,” mostly because readers like to imagine their own characters and will overrule your descriptions if they get in the way. 

Another reason is that I’m a bear about PoV and the only way a PoV character can describe herself is by looking in a mirror (NEVER DO THAT) which is completely unnatural. (Think about the last time you looked in a mirror; did you describe yourself?  No. The last time I looked in a mirror, I thought, Who is that old woman and why is she wearing my pajamas?).

Another reason is that if we’re interacting with somebody in real life, we get impressions, we don’t stop to do inventories because that takes time, and the long pause and the staring will cause comment. So if a first person or third limited PoV character goes on for a paragraph about what somebody looks like, unless she has a good reason–she’s a detective analyzing a suspect, for example–she’s going to notice only a few telling details (telling to her and the story) and move on.

So what description can you use?

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