First came the premise, which started out as "unmanned" ground vehicles that are in reality driven by invisible people. It didn't take long to alter it to unseen people instead of invisible. I'd create a class of people willing to risk their lives and in all likelihood die for large sums of money on missions no human should be sent to complete. And no human would, except that these people are hidden inside these supposedly unmanned battle vehicles. There are a lot of details to work out, like how do they see, how do they get in without getting caught, who owns the vehicles, who sends them on missions, what sort of remote control and monitoring do they have? Those are fun problems to sort out, and I'll save the details for the book.
Now, I need characters. But how do I go about creating people to plunk down in this situation? Two of them I'm fairly sure where to start. They're young, college-aged, and suicidal. A boy and a girl from different backgrounds and places. They're the insiders, the invisible people, and two of a few dozen recruits. They'll risk everything for the off chance (maybe one in three?) that they'll live to collect their paycheck. If they die, oh well. They wanted to die anyway, and now they have something to leave behind; the money goes to their families, or whatever they specify. (Under the guise of life insurance, perhaps?)
There's a possible third protagonist, a man about my age or a little older. I thought about making him just like me—a tech writer at a small robotics company, or maybe an engineer. The problem is, I would never do what I need him to do. I'm the kind of person who leaves well enough alone, but I need this character to start digging, to find out what's going on under the hood, to contact the two inside characters. (Also, it's never a good idea
I'm thinking he's got to be either a newspaper reporter, or the former head of a small robotics company that went bust after losing a contract to a competitor. (The Bad Guys. See below.) The motivations will be different, depending on which I choose. The failed inventor would be in it for revenge, to find out how The Bad Guys managed to leapfrog so far ahead, and expose them. The reporter would be doing his job, uncovering a sinister conspiracy and trying to win a Pulitzer or something. If I go with the reporter, the other guy would be a minor character.
The Bad Guys will be a large corporation with vast resources, possibly a defense contractor, and not based on any specific company. Only an organization with clout and credibility could pull off something like this. They could buy up expertise and intellectual property rights and smaller companies as needed. They could win mercenary contracts that smaller companies never could. They could hire hit men—I'm getting carried away. Anyway, the Bad Guys will be this company, and it will need faces—managers, PR, guards, trainers, techs. I think I'll make up one main Bad Guy, though I don't know which role he'll be in.
And now for the title! I thought of calling it Drivers or something like that. Just a couple days ago, I realized a better title was staring me right in the face: Unmanned. I haven't checked for books of that name, but there aren't many novels about UGVs. I feel uniquely qualified to write one.
How do (or would) you create new people?
[update: I'm calling it Drivers instead of Unmanned. It's about the drivers, not the unmanned vehicles. Duh. *slaps forehead*]