The debate continues between those who have a flash of inspiration that propels them to write and keep writing and those who think about their ideas and outline before they start. For those who prefer the less planned routine, the extra pages trimmed from a manuscript after starting down a path that turns into a dead end can be stored away for the future.
For those who prefer the more planned routine, there are also options. A number of books descript how to create stories by answering ten or so questions. An author can use the wealth of mythology and follow the hero’s journey and even find screenwriting books that demonstrate how to outline your by beginning scenes according to number of minutes. All of these help an author design a story divided into manageable chunks that progress towards an end. However, I am not going to discuss these, because the authors who have written books on these methods have done a more thorough job of this than I could. Instead I will tell you what works for me.
When a new piece of inspiration arises in my mind, I will consider it very deeply, often for days. The goal is to delineate the major conflicts which occur in my newly conceived main character’s life. To make this thought process easier, I divide my story into acts, similar to a play but not always the same number of acts. (There are usually three to five.) Sometimes an act cycles through an entire plot from initial conflict to rise in action to the resolution and denouement. At other times nothing is concluded until the last act. However, these acts often occur in different distinct settings. (Something I learned from moving frequently in my own life.)
The next step—write out the basic description of my acts and summarize the major events occurring within that act. Then, I start listing scenes. I try to include at least five in each act, but scenes start reproducing like rabbits and often I end up with as many as twelve. I try to list all of the scenes for each act and then start writing the actual text. However, sometimes I get carried away with an idea and just commence writing, especially when the characters are talking in my head and I feel the urge to capture their conversation.
Anybody reading this may have already guessed that my novels are character driven. Therefore, I’m not sure exactly what characters will be doing in the next act, but I know what they will accomplish by the end of the current act. To keep track of my acts and scenes, I give them titles, which are converted into different levels of headings using my old standby word processor, MS Word. I like seeing the headings in the side panel as I work. At any point, I can use the table of contents function to make an index. However, if I need to move a huge chunk of the act to a different place, my old stand-by is a bit clunky. Often I resort to creating a separate document for each act.
Essentially, all authors must figure out what kind of preplanning will work for them. It often must fit the kind of novel they are writing. I am not making any guarantees that my method will work for you (and neither can anyone else.)