"If you want to write a good book, you have to compose a detailed outline before you start!"
"In order to create a worthwhile novel, you cannot plan it out; you have to let yourself create it as it goes."
"You HAVE to write THIS way."
"You HAVE to write THAT way."
In truth, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to the process of composing a novel. I've known lots of writers, published and unpublished, who prefer to compose an intricate outline that specifically maps out where they want their story to go. I've also known writers (also published and unpublished) who get a simple idea, and then they sit down and start typing, letting the story write itself. I find myself somewhere in the middle.
I don't create a full outline because sometimes, for me, I'll get midway through a story, and the original idea I had wants to go a different route. When that happens, my subconscious is trying to guide me, so I'll go with the flow at that point; however, I do write down lots of notes. I record thoughts that I have during brainstorming, or when I get a random idea during the way. I also collect inspiring pictures and story-related research. And I keep all this stuff in one big notebook or binder.
Let me share with you some pictures of a special example of my type of writing notebook. This binder serves as the home to a vast majority of notes I collected during the process of writing Wings of the Divided and its sequels back in college.
As you can see, the scribbled notes are not all on the same kind of paper. Sometimes, I'd be out somewhere far away from my writing desk, and I'd get a good idea, so I'd grab the closest piece of paper I could find in order to store my thoughts. I've heard of writers like J.K Rowling even writing down notes on napkins because they didn't have anything else to write on. Sometimes when inspiration hits, you just have to capture it somehow so you don't lose it.
For my characters, I will often go on a hunt for pictures of people that look like them--or at least how I see them in my mind.
|(Inspiration for my character Melissa)|
|(Inspiration for my character Noam)|
And sometimes I'll even get brave enough to draw sketches of my characters, diagrams of scenery, or details of an item.
|(My character Noam--those are supposed to be sai he's holding, although they kind of look like Wolverine claws here.)|
|(My character Laphelle--I saw some of the characters almost in Anime style in my head.)|
As I wrote these books, I allowed myself to get completely obsessed with angels. I wanted to be familiar with not only the Bible's interpretation of what angels were, but also who they were in lore from other countries. Ultimately, I put my own spin on what I wanted my angels to be like, but I did contribute bits of legend here and there, and just really enjoyed learning about the history. I bought a dictionary of angels, printed out historic bits of scripture about angels, and made copies of encyclopedic references to angels. (I also gathered articles about violins and other story-related topics.)
Before I wrap up this post, I'll mention one other thing I sometimes do before I write a chapter or a certain scene, and that is I make song lists for them. Quite a few authors I know of write with music going in the background. I find that certain songs, mostly classical/soundtrack tunes for me, can help me create a movie-like scene in my head. And then that helps me to channel the right emotion that a scene needs. So I'll often write down song names and their corresponding scenes in my book so I can remember to listen to those when I'm writing that scene. (I don't have to have music going; I've also written plenty in complete silence. It just depends on the scene.)
So that's pretty much it as far as preparation goes for me! Again, some novelists don't take any notes at all, while others map out everything that's going to happen in the story before they ever start typing. I say (like so many things in life), to each his own. As long as you have the skill, the determination, and the imagination, there really is no wrong way to go about it!