I am practising a new exercise: to sum up a character in a few, grammatically connected, words. Preferably with one single sentence. This may be their personality or appearance, or both, but in terms of the rules, directly applied adjectives will be avoided (large, friendly, pretty, intimidating, gloomy, etc.)
Below are a few great examples from literature. Admittedly, these are sometimes extracted from longer descriptions (Dickens, for example, was liberal – though not inefficient – with descriptive text); however, they nail a character or a key characteristic in a few words. The descriptions give a strong mental image and hook the reader, whether using imagery, the character’s actions, habits, impact, or even reputation, whether with promise, irony, or portent.
The smiler with the knife beneath his cloak – Geoffrey Chaucer in ‘The Knight’s Tale’ Pilgrims Progress (there are many marvellous examples in this collection).
A man made out of coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him… Charles Dickens on Mr. Bounderby in Hard Times
He had an air which said: I am distinguished. Muriel Spark on Sir Quentin Oliver in Loitering with Intent. Notably, Spark described herself as an avid listener and “person-watcher” from the time of being a child.
She was one of those people you cannot think of except in regard to their looks, which in her case were unvarying, independent of clothes, of age, of circumstances, even of health. Nancy Mitford on Polly Hampton in Love in a Cold Climate
He was such a miserable specimen, the children said, all humps and hollows. Virginia Woolf of Charles Tansley in To the Lighthouse.
All his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it. Philip Pullman on Lord Asriel in The Golden Compass
Zenia stands out; her face and hands and torso swim against the darkness, among the white chrysanthemums, as if disembodied and legless. Margaret Atwood on Zenia in The Robber Bride.
Her skin was a rich black that would have peeled like a plum if snagged, but then no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs. Flowers to ruffle her dress, let along snag her skin. Maya Angelou on Bertha Flowers in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
It was only the new game-keeper, but he had frightened Connie, he seemed to emerge with such a swift menace. DH Laurence on Oliver Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Do these work for you?