The word “character” stems from the Greek word for a chiseled cut, an etching, or a groove. Oftentimes the essence of a human being is etched into their face. We recognize someone from the way they smile, squint in bright sunlight, or the slight bump in their nose that speaks to past fights. A few deft details about a person’s face can speak volumes.
If you’re writing a memoir, take out a photograph of the person you want to write about and detail the features. No need to tell the story behind the features for this exercise, simply look long and hard and describe what you see in precise detail.
If you’re writing about a fictional character, you will have to use your imagination to conjure up the face. Or, perhaps, you want to look through magazines or photographs to find a face that reminds you of the character you’re writing about.
No need for the writing to be dull, just because it’s limited to features and a face.
Take this piece of description from Flannery O’Conner:
“He had a long tube-like face with a long rounded open jaw and a long depressed nose. His eyes were alert but quiet, and in the miraculous moonlight they had a look of composure and of ancient wisdom as if they belonged to one of the great guides of men.”
And from Chekhov:
“I like this broad pale face with its high cheekbones…. His grimaces are queer and morbid, but the fine lines drawn on his face by deep and genuine suffering denote sensibility and culture, and there is a warm lucid gleam in his eyes.”