I have been paying attention to the manner in which I approach writing a novel. I've read articles on writing blogs describing how some writers outline their stories in great detail. Other authors prefer to just sit down, start writing and see what happens. Some writers start with characters and let the plot emerge from the interaction among characters. Others start with a plot and let the characters develop as the story goes along.
At one time or another, I have used each of those techniques. I don't think I have a strong preference. For me, the Story itself dictates how it wants to be written. Some stories, especially those in genres that are new to me, require more planning and outlining. I plotted out Merlin's Daughters before I wrote a word, although the ending turned out to be different than I had planned. The Bev Deller mysteries require a good bit of planning in order to ensure that the ending makes sense, even if it is a surprise. When I am writing a story that is primarily character based, I typically just sit down and start writing, allowing the character to tell me the story. It's interesting that, whether I plan it out or wing it, the endings of every one of the novels I have written have surprised me in one way or another.
I like the sense of order and control I have when I start with an outline and a character sketches with backstory for the main characters. That sense of control usually only lasts until the story takes off and the characters take over, at which point I discover that I'm not in control at all. The Story reveals itself. I just write it down.
One thing that is common to all my story ideas: they play out in my head like a movie as I write. I watch what is happening, and write it down. Sometimes it is murky and dark and I have to struggle to figure out what is going on, as if the Story itself doesn't know what it wants to do. Writing those parts is tentative and, often, those parts end up getting cut later. Nevertheless, struggling through difficult passages slows me down enough to offer the Story the time it needs to develop. More often than not, that becomes a point where the story moves in some new and unexpected direction, or morphs into a totally different genre. Other times, the Story knows exactly where it wants to go and it plays out in my head almost in real time. When that happens, I often have a hard time keeping up with it.
That is when writing is fun. The excitement of writing a story that races across the page and grows from a mere idea into a fully fleshed out first draft is the principal reason I live my life the way I do.