Being part of a social circle makes your character more connected to the world around you and gives you connections you might not normally have.
Your character can make a group or a guild part of their identity. Like the wizard who feels the need to remind you that he went to Harvard.
Is your character part of a athletic or golf club? A group of adventurers? Do they frequent a specific tavern or coffee shop or weapon smith?
Do they hang out with old college buddies on the weekend? Are you a part of a study group? Are you in a choir or a acting troupe? Gamble or attend a poker night?
Have your character talk about the people in these groups. Or maybe your character needs to get back to town to have a drink with the boys.
Give your character an item that they can't live without.
Having something specific that your character plays with gives you something to focus on when you don't know what else to do. If you don't have a plan, fall back on sharpening your sword or tuning your lute.
Arthur Dent just wants to find a good cup of tea. Sam-wise has his pots and pans. Gandalf is always puffing on his pipe. Maybe you have a pocket watch that belonged to your grandpa.
Or a locket with your lovers picture in it.
Get specific weapons or armor that you can't leave without. Or other accessories. A very comfy robe you need to travel with. Or that impressive cape you like to wear to parties.
If your character is awkward at a party, you can tug at your fancy cape, or fiddle with your necklace.
Hold up your holy symbol and pray to your gods that the awkwardness will end soon.
Bring a real life prop to the table.
Don't think about how intelligent you are, think about how you are intelligent.
Everybody is smart in some way, or an expert in some specific area. Take your knowledge skills to the next level. With your DM's permission.
This isn't just a profession, this is what your character enjoys and excels at.
Do you know how to play five different musical instruments? Do you know all the landmarks between here and the mountains? Can you track every deer trail and footprint you see?
Can you read magic without a second thought? Can you navigate your way through any social situation?
You might not be able to read but you know all the critical areas of the human body and know exactly how to strike. You may be knowledgeable about 17 different types of poison and their effects.
Maybe you can recount every bit of gossip or scandal in the royal court? You can talk endlessly about the history of the region and never be bored of it.
Can you identify 53 different species of monster or magical creature and list their weaknesses? Do you understand all the trade agreements from 7 different countries?
Do you know how to sail a ship? Identify weather patterns?
Are you a talented artist or sculptor? Can you brew potions and recognize every spell component?
You might not know how to act in front of the queen, but you can forge the strongest sword out of any type of metal.
These ideas can be another weapon in your arsenal when you want to contribute to the story or you don't know what else your character can talk about.
How is your character is intelligent?
What does your character like or dislike about themselves.
Are you proud to be a dragon-born. Ashamed to be half demon? Hiding the fact that you are half-goblin? Do you agree with the fact that your fellow dwarves might have dug too deep?
Do you support your elfin nation making alliances with the orcs?
What part of your backstory are you ashamed of? What do you regret?
What abilities do you resent? Are you ashamed of being born as a sorcerer? Do you hate the fact that you can sing to inspire people?
Are you constantly healing people that don't deserve it? Are you dismayed of turning into a rage monster whenever you get angry?
How does your character react when they know they can't do something? Or fail to do something?
What about your backstory are you the most proud of? What do you like to brag about?
What powers and abilities do you want to show off? Showing off is a great thing to role-play.
Knowing what your character likes or supports, goes a long way toward knowing how to react and respond to specific situations.
Talk to the other players characters.
Now that you have more inspiration about your character, you need to put your character in the action.
Don't be afraid to start a conversation or set the scene.
Relate your character to what the other characters are doing.
If you want to role play, you can't do it by yourself. Involve others in it too!
Ask the monk where he learned how to fight. Ask your wizard why he wastes so much time reading. Talk about your family or why your character wants to protect innocent people.
Ask another player why they need that fancy cape at all the parties.
Tell the other characters what you care about. Show off your magic sword you got from the holy order of knights. Talk about why the pots and pans always need to be clean.
Tell other characters why you are so good at picking locks.
Brag about your favorite things in your backstory.
Tell the players that you are ashamed of being a sorcerer and you didn't choose to be born with it.
The more you work with others to develop characters the more they will work with you too. Create moments together.
A good DM will let the players role play a scene without micromanaging or rushing the plot forward.
If you are planning a character arc, plan it with the group.
If the party knows what is going on, they can, and should be helping you out with your character development.
Other players can then make informed decisions and role-play their reactions, based on where they know your character wants to go.
The DM can have time to prepare, give you specific scenes and opportunities to role play towards that goal.
Be reactive in character.
This is one of the best things the actors in Critical Role do. Their characters are so much more alive because they react to what is happening around them.
It's baffling how many players don't do this. Your party is travelling together, camping out together, fighting side by side constantly, and yet so many players don't react or play off of the other characters.
React to other players stories and support their character arcs.
If you want good role-play and character development, this is how you do it.
Create friendship and camaraderie with the party members. Grow your personalities and interactions together!
Interacting with other PCs will create so many chances for good role-play and too many players don't even think about this!
React to your friends making a great kill or executing a creative plan.
Support other players when they are role playing, get involved with the conversation.
Work with your DM and players to create your characters story. You should be helping them do the same.
React to the story in order to move the plot forward.
If the NPC gnomes tell you that their friends were kidnapped by goblins, you should get the hint and maybe go save them.
Getting the hint means moving the plot forward. Ask questions. Why were the goblins kidnapping people in the first place? Why are the goblins working with a bunch of skeletons?
What happened in your tragic backstory that is relatable to this situation?
Utilize The Character abilities
Ask other PC's to help you out.
Get the fighter to cause a distraction. Ask the rogue to scout ahead or pick some locks. Ask the cleric to turn the undead. Ask the bard to help talk your way out of a situation.
Work together to plan ahead and use each others skills to support each other.
Take advantage of your skill proficiencies, magic spells and racial bonuses. This is what makes your character unique. This is how you contribute to working with the party.
Do not dismiss other players ideas.
Be inclusive, adaptable and supportive.
Let other players try out their ideas. Next time you have a creative idea they might listen to you.
The crazier the idea, the more interesting the game will be. Tabletop RPGs are designed to allow freedom of creativity.
If you are denying creative freedom, you are denying a main element of the game and denying what makes the game fun in the first place.
If players are afraid to be wrong, or make the wrong choice, they won't be able to create anything. Be supportive so you won't be the reason why people are afraid to be creative.
Advance your characters goals.
Having a cool backstory and a goal doesn't mean much if you aren't including it in the game.
Follow the adventure hooks.
Use your goals to drive your character and the role-playing ever forward.
Use your backstory to relate it to other characters whatever else is going on in game.
Why is your paladin is willing to travel with a bunch of thieves. Why does your necromancer work with a group of clerics? How does a wizard work with a bunch of hack-n-slash barbarians who can't read?
Adapt to the DM's style of play. If the DM wants a game about killing monsters and you want to role-play, put some effort into making a compromise and work together.
Some of the best role play I've seen is during battle. Don't just attack on your turn during battle. Take advantage of the spotlight on your turn to role play as well as fight.
Make sure the DM knows how you want to play so you both can adapt to each others styles.
If the Dungeon Master doesn't know what you want out of the game, they can't give it to you. It's your job to communicate to them what you want and how you want to play.
If that doesn't work, find a different group to play with.
Be responsible for your character.
Be proud of what you create. Be confident in your choices.
The more confidence you have, the more realistic your character becomes.
Don't rely on the DM to remember that you sent a love letter to your main squeeze. Remind the DM that you are waiting for a reply. Ask the DM if you recognize someone specific from your backstory.
The more you ask about things, the more likely the dungeon master will add things in for you.
Take your special magic sword to the blacksmith for repairs. Go home to visit your family. Create your potions and scrolls. Look for leads to solve a mystery. Find out what kind of enemies you are fighting next and get their weaknesses.
Be responsible for moving your story forward.
Do not wait for the DM to say what you are going to do. You need to take action and make decisions for your character. Ask if you can try something. Tell the DM what you are planning on doing.
If your character isn't making decisions or taking action, you aren't role playing.
Deciding to stay back at the farmhouse while the rest of the players continue the game without you, is not a decision. If you choose to stay behind, you deserve to be left behind.
The DM can only give you so many options as far as where to go and what to do. Making smart choices based off of those options.
You are responsible for how much role-playing you want to do and how much fun you have with it. No one else is going to play your character for you.
Remember why you are playing in the first place. Have fun with it.
The more effort you put into the game, the more you will enjoy it.
Let's face it, you'll still have to improvise a little.
In fact you will probably be improvising a lot, thus is the nature of the game. Be prepared for it. And practice it.
It's okay if you aren't good at improvising. Use your backstory, your characters goals, and alignment to inform your decisions.
It's totally okay to plan what you want to say beforehand or follow another players lead. You can even print out the ideas here or other character questionnaires to motivate you in the midst of the game.
As long as you can interact with the game, you will be having fun.
When you don't know what to do, have something prepared that your character can say or do. This gives you something to fall back on.
Experiment with your character.
You'll never get good at anything if you don't test things out and practice. It's okay to experiment who your character is.
Trying new things is the only way to grow and learn.
Don't be afraid to change something you don't like about your character.
Practice asking questions in character.
Practice relating your character to the story and react to what is going on.
Ask yourself how your player feels, and role play that emotion.
Take the time to listen, support, and allow other players to role-play. Don't dismiss others ideas.
Drive your characters story forward.
Use these skills to find out who your character is, and what is working for you.