Catching up on interesting things from around the RPG blogs, Chris “Bankuei” Chinn suggested a one sentence character concept maker:

A (personality trait) (profession) is (personal goal).

For example:

A forlorn air pirate is seeking the City of Gold.
A vengeful princess is engineering the downfall of the Empire.
A nebbish superhero is trying to get a date.
A compassionate necromancer is experimenting to raise the dead, in the good way.
A remorseful god is hoping to undo the tragedy he has wrought.

It’s something that can work across a variety of systems (as Chris points out), it creates characters who are already “in motion,” and it’d be great for NPCs too.