There seems to be this new movement of writers trying to praise vagueness in writing. They want as few details on appearances as possible and only allusions to the past, but I say: stop.
Now, I’m not one for paragraphs and paragraphs of description of the landscape and people; it’s why I can’t get into Tolkien. I also don’t like reading blocks of description of what a character looks like, because my eyes glaze over. However, that does not mean that those details don’t matter.
Whatever your personal preference, know that readers still need some concrete details about your character’s appearance, personality and past. While vagueness can allow the reader to insert themselves into the situation, it also means that your character is barely a character at all. They’re a shade of what they should be, with blase personality and nothing concrete about them. These details don’t need to be presented in a list or a block of text either. In fact, they shouldn’t. They can be spread out over chapters and even series of books, so long as they’re there for the reader to envision.
There’s all this chatter about strong characters, but remember that this isn’t about physical or mental strength; it’s about how well-rounded and three-dimensional the characters are. Characters like Stephanie Meyer’s Bella aren’t the ones that stick out in our minds most of the time. It’s the ones like Anne Rice’s disgustingly beautiful and arrogant Lestat that burn themselves into our brains.
So stop being so vague. Don’t be worried if your reader might not be able to relate to your character. Create characters that already have life inside of them, not ones that need to take life from the reader. Those are the ones that people are going to care about, that people are going to have strong feelings about, and the details are what make them.