Depending on the person and their personal approach you can develop a character in a myriad of different ways. Some people put very little thought into their characters, preferring to play the RPG as an abstract puzzle type game and there is nothing wrong with that. Others though, like myself, like to use their RPG characters as a way of telling stories, exploring personalities, and otherwise developing and presenting a character to the group with the hopes of having made a real person. Today I want to talk about this latter type of character development, and some areas of the character you may want to give extra thought to when developing just who the character is.
As a warning, at least part of this topic will deal with mature themes, please be advised when reading forward.
I'm starting off with species to clarify that I'm talking about something like "is your character a human, elf, dwarf, twi'lek, rodian, or a klingon?" as opposed to say "is your character asian, white, black, latino, or some other race?" Now with some characters the species won't matter, but for a lot of characters it should, especially when playing in a pre-defined universe.
For example, if you're playing a Twi'lek in the star wars universe you should probably know how your character feels about slavery. Why? Well, because - among other things - twi'leks are a favorite target for slavers for various reasons. Some Twi'leks are for this because it helps propogate and spread the species across the galaxy. Others are against it for all the reasons people are often against slavery in the modern world. More to the point though, especially if playing a Twi'lek female, there is a good chance you've experience slavery first hand in some way, shape, or form.
Now this may seem like a minor or niche point about a character, but it can also be very defining. A character who is ok with or sees the good sides of slavery (no, I can't believe I just said that either...) is going to be very different from someone who has escaped from, or otherwise gotten free of, being a slave and values individual freedoms above al else.
In a fantasy setting this can show up in other ways too. Elves are often depicted as haughty, distance, and elusive. Their long life spans give them perspective and patience. They are not, or should not be at least, as prone to rushing through things because for an elf, unlike a human, time is not a fleeting thing. They are eternal and thus can play a game that wont bear fruit for a century or two just as casually as a human could do the same with a one or two year plan.
This isn't often something we think about around my gaming table. Mostly people don't want to deal with the woes of money, or not having money, when they are playing games. However, the class and life style a character comes from can be very important. We don't expect, and fiction is full of stories showing this, a prince and a street beggar to have the same views, morals, or ethics about life. Neither of those people would likely see eye to eye with someone who worked a hard days work for a living and had enough to get by but not much in excess.
Now, this could come across as small niche things again like money. A character from an affluent family is likely not going to think much of money and that could get them in a lot of trouble when they casually buy things they maybe can't afford anymore - or worse, show they have a lot of money in a bad sector of town. On the other hand, a poor character - even if suddenly posessing a large sum of cash - is likely to remain frugal and do what they can to spend as little money as possible.
This approach to money could also greatly change the approach to problems. A wealthy character may simply buy their way past problems while a poor character may try to find other ways around that issue. A poor character may have no problems sleeping under less ideal conditions while a wealthy character bleeds money to inns and taverns. Heck, just having a wealthy character who doesnt mind the poor life can say a lot about who they are and what they've done. Sometimes people just want out from their life, even if their burdens seem like another person's luxury.
Finally I'm going to talk about the character's job. We are what we do, and what we do professionally can have a big impact on how we act. This one is kind of a "derr!" to be included, but how many of you have actually thought about just how much your job may affect who you are, what you do, how you approach problems, and how you view issues.
For example, a smuggler/thief/criminal is probably going to be a lot more ok with breaking the law casually than a cop. A cop that does break the law casually is still likely to be a different person, as either it shows they don't much care about the law (which they are supposed to uphold) or that maybe they see themselves as above it. Them ignoring various rules is a "perk" of the job they can use.
That one is fairly binary, so let's continue with other things. A lawyer is likely to be very socially adept, good at finding their way around things, and have a good reason for a lot of htings they do (at least officially). While they may do shady stuff they'll also know how to do it in a more safe way. Yes, these are all generalizations but they are qualities that can be there. On the other hand someone who is a delivery driver may have a more mundane view of life and be the kind of person who just wants to relax when they get home due to having a hard day.
It's The Little Things
None of the things I talked about are going to be huge character points. Those points are important, but most people know to handle them. However, these things will give you a lot of litle things, or perspectives that could change your view of the large things you have in place already. Ultimately, it is those little niches and quirks that will define a character more than the big things. It is awesome that your character will jump in the way of a bullet meant for their boss, but how do they act towards their land lord? Are they a jerk elsewhere? Are they nice to people they don't need to be? These are the things that help make the character seem more real,more alive, than other characters. They're the spark of life that can make a character more real and let them develop more naturally.
If you're new to this don't be upset if it doesn't work right away. A lot of this involves thinking about things that we normally don't think about. How does your world view change when you have been taught to face your foes head on and take them with strength against strength? How about if you have always been weaker but faster? These things make the person real but take time to develop and situate. Give it time, it'll become more natural.