With give or take a week to go to the release of The Foreign Effect, I wanted to give a little insight into my writing process. Especially since a couple of people who have received early-access copies of my book have asked me, how I get from the initial idea to the finished (well ... as finished as it will ever be) book.
Please keep in mind that The Foreign Effect is my first finished written project that is not a short story, so I will be talking out of my ass for half of this, but I would be lying if I'd say there wasn't some method to the madness.
I have always been able to do a lot of structuring in my head. That skill is what made me a somewhat efficient Game Designer and that skill helps me a lot with pre-production of stories - even though it makes my whole process probably a bit hard to copy, as I do a lot of my "writing" before I ever put pen to paper. For the sake of this piece however, let me try and break it down as much as possible.
All starts with the idea of an idea. Usually I get inspired by something and I feel like I want to write about it. But I do not have the idea nailed down yet. In The Foreign Effect's case I had just finished playing SOMA and was struck by the whole "perception of yourself, and copies of yourself" thing. This phase can last anything from ten minutes to a couple of months and it is the phase where most of my research happens. I get smart on the concept quickly and devour everything I can find regarding the topic. With every new input you get on the topic, it is easier to nail down your idea.
At some point during that phase the EUREKA moment happens and I have my idea. Again, in The Foreign Effect's case this idea was "What if we can put our consciousness into other bodies, but there is no cloning!" ... as I said, I was struck by the whole "perception of yourself and copies of yourself" thing, but in order to make that feel important and to add a potential for drama to it, there needed to be something that prevented people from just switching bodies on the fly all the time. That is where the missing cloning-technology comes in.
After I have my initial idea I try to reverse-construct history - at least my brand of SciFi is almost always connected to the real world, which is much "easier" to do than creating your own universe from scratch. So I basically use common sense and logical deduction to work my way backwards in history from the point I want my tale to start all the way to now.
In case of The Foreign Effect that meant dealing with what needed to happen behind the scenes of Sirona Corp. before they could offer the service of the Trans-Life to the broad public and BAM, you have social commentary.
It obviously depends on what you want to write, but in my case with The Foreign Effect I wanted to write something somber and thought provoking, so once I had my timeline in place it was pretty much a fact that Sirona was "Evil Corp" and that the characters I introduce need to have their character arcs related to the motive of "the rich get richer and the poor poorer" in order for the sci-fi gimmick and the character motivation to match up.
Speaking of the characters - the part where I feel I have the most to learn still - I usually do one to three pages of character traits to make myself familiar with the characters and get a feel for who they are. A thing I borrowed from running Pen and Paper campaigns, where I often need to improvise a lot, is the character's "ULTIMATE TRUTH". A 100% true fact that when push comes to shove defines the character's motivation and actions. This allows me to react "in character" if and when I maneuver myself into situations I am not entirely sure how to get out of (trust me, it happens a lot).
Once I have my idea, and my character arcs I try to craft a narrative, which I try to press into the 5 act structure while establishing the individual chapters with 3-5 sentences basically covering "WHAT happens to WHOM, WHERE". I try to incorporate a technique Jim Butcher (author of the Dresden Files) talked about at a panel where I try to define the protagonist of the scene and his/her goal and what is keeping them from reaching that goal as much as possible. According to Butcher the key to an engaging narrative is that your protagonist only reaches his/her goal for the chapter once or twice over the whole novel. But to be fair I keep - I just call it - "The Butcher Rule" in my mind when setting up scenes but do not neccessarily force it if I feel something works better or if I have to space out my lore dumps.
Speaking of lore dumps. A pet peeve of mine and often done horribly bland in scifi and fantasy. The dreaded "opening of movie - off-screen narration" ... I try to incorporate the lore of my world into dialogues that progress the narrative as much as possible but sometimes you just have to do a good old-fashioned lore dump so that everything makes sense to the reader. Therefore it is always nice to have a character in your story that has the same knowledge base as your reader - at least for certain topics - so you can explain those organically.
So that is basically how I struggle through the first draft. I iterate on that draft two or three times until I get the feeling I have done everything I wanted to do and then it is OFF to a couple of chosen people to get feedback from. From that point on it is feedback - write - read - repeat.