I had a friend read a story I wrote recently (hi Jessica!), and she made an interesting comment -- that I should have put more character description into the story. She wanted to know more about the characters' physicality and that got me thinking -- how much responsibility does a writer have to give full physical descriptions of their characters?
My gut instinct is to say "not much." I know when I read a book I tend to make characters look like whatever I want them to within certain parameters (mostly generic information - gender, age, race etc). After that, what the character LOOKS like tends to be left to me. I think given the exact same description of a person, every reader will have their own image of what a character looks like regardless of what the author gives as a description.
That said, I've been told on more than one occasion that I should give more physical details - how a character looks, smells, sounds etc. I find I tend to only do this where the story specifically requires it. Had I written Harry Potter, sure the scar would be mentioned because it's relevant to the plot, and the glasses help identify him, but beyond that, he's pretty much "generic 12 year old boy" that each reader can fill in on their own (that is, if they can get the image of Daniel Radcliffe out of their mind).
So what do you think? Is it the writer's responsibility to give a full description of a character to try to make each reader see the same person the writer is envisioning, or does it not really matter as long as any RELEVANT details are present and accounted for? I'm kind of on the fence on this one myself. I understand the point made, certainly, but I still keep falling back on my own experience of just making a character look like whatever I want them to when I read a book. I'm willing to change my mind, of course, but I think it's worth considering...