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If I'm playing in an AP then I read the player's guide first. So I can build a character appropriate to the setting.
Then I brainstorm a couple of concepts for the 4 pillars Martial/Skill/Arcane/Divine. Usually using traits from the player's guide as a focus for the beam. This will usually be just a one sentence concept with a campaign trait tagged.
Then I talk to the other players and find out what they are most interested in playing to see if there are any gaps in the party. If there's a clear gap I'll pick a class based on that. If not then I'll pick whatever idea sings to me, I'll work up stats and basics and if I can imagine doing cool stuff I run with it, or move on to the next idea.
Then I try to create a name that sounds funny at first, but gets less funny each time you hear it. (example: Hollow Graves [B.Nec] Necromancer, Ash Q'Asheem and Sharumander Summoner).
Then I write ONE paragraph which tells the GM:
Who I am.
Where I come from.
What I want.
Why I can't have it.
Then that's that.