Famed author of Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Magic: the Gathering, Planescape, Guild Wars 2 novels, just to mention a few, J. Robert King (@jrobertking) was kind enough to offer me some advice on the preparation of novel writing.

Hey, Jarrod:

For many novels, I've created a detailed outline that breaks the novel into chapters with a paragraph or two per chapter to explain what will be happening.

This approach has a number of benefits:
1. I can explore the whole story arc in a condensed form.
2. The extended outline allows me to work with pacing.
3. Revisions to the story can occur before it is totally organic (and revision feels more like surgery)
4. I can get buy-in from stakeholders at a publishing house (often a gaming company).
5. The outline serves as a writing guide, allowing me to write a chapter a day (if they are short) or half a chapter.
6. The outline helps me pace myself in terms of content written and time remaining.

Having said all of that, the extended outline is just an extended outline--a plan. It isn't alive yet. In the actual drafting phase of the project, all of those initial ideas have to take on an organic existence. Some things in the outline won't work because the characters don't want to do it that way. That's great. When you reach the point that your characters are resisting your outline, go with the characters. They have come to real life.

Then you have to figure out whether this is a small diversion and the characters can get back on plan shortly afterward, or whether you need to rewrite parts of the outline.

Now, though it is true I've written most of my work-for-hire stuff in this fashion, I've written most of my spec stuff in a completely different way. Sometimes I just leap in and write. Other times, I do a lot of research (as I did with Angel of Death) and allow ideas to percolate before I start in. Sometimes, I write a one-line proposal, and a one-page synopsis to get a publisher to buy the concept, and then I just write from those.

This organic approach puts the characters in charge from the beginning. There's no problem of having a book that's dead because it's just a structure with no life in it. This approach allows for amazing surprises and brilliant invention.

However, it also really easily goes astray. Because the characters are in charge, you'll get into a lot of dead ends, and the book will be overwritten and rambling. Cutting will be key during the revision stage. It's also tough to keep going this way because you don't have a map, so you have to simply step out your door and see where the road takes you, to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins.

If you write from an extensive outline, you have control, which you need to gradually lose so that your characters can come to life. If you write from your imagination solely, you have no control, and you'll need to gradually gain it to rein in the chaos. With either approach, you'll be happy with the result if you can cover the whole spectrum. With either approach, you'll be disappointed in the result if you go only halfway.

That's my best advice about how to get started. Choose a method that fits
1. you,
2. the story you are writing,
3. the form you are writing (short story, novella, novel),
4. the people you are writing for (including readers and publishers), and
5. the context you are writing in (how much time you have overall, and how much time you have per day to work).

If your approach works best for all of these factors, you should do wonderfully.

Thanks for your questions, Jarrod--and good luck with the manuscript!