Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creating People

And now I reveal the working title of my next project, right after I say a few other things. I guess that makes it not really "now" so much as "pretty soon." Either way, I haven't really started working on that project except to think about it in spare moments.

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 not to base characters so blatantly on yourself.)

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*]

4 comments:

  1. "Also, it's never a good idea not to base characters so blatantly on yourself." An intended double-negative? ;)

    I'd probably have to base them on people I know and see pretty frequently to make them realistic. But maybe I don't know anyone well enough for that to work. Maybe I'd base them on the voices in my head...

    Speaking of creating characters....
    http://vimeo.com/4126976

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  2. Oops. Not intended. Freudian slip?

    George Lucas in Love. Hee hee. You can read my books and guess which characters are based on YOU!

    I don't base characters on real people. Doesn't work for me. However...well, that's probably another blog post. As are the similarities between mental constructs for people we know and imaginary characters. Is it all just the same to our brains? Can't you sometimes "write the next line" for your kids before they say it?

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  3. I feel like I just sat in on a brainstorming session. Which I guess I kind of did?

    So far, my stories start with a glimpse of a scene, usually a high tension or climax scene. Then I try to figure out what kind of person might be in a situation like that, how they would have gotten in that mess.

    And past behavior is the best predictor for future behavior. So yeah, sometimes I know exactly what my kids are going to say. Usually some variation of "Mo-o-om, she's breathing my air!" ;)

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  4. Hmm... well, if I were good at this, I might have something going for me.

    I've found my best characters come from taking a stereotypical person and putting them in a non-stereotypical situation. Or at least a situation in which the character does not fit the stereotypes typically fitting said situation. Then I stress them and see how they'll react. It's fun to see what happens.

    Of course, I end up with a lot of action hero's that way... so I probably need to spend a bit more time studying human behavior. Oh well. I think I mainly just want my characters to be able to do things I can't. Like an extension of myself in a perfect world. Curse my bias!

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