What's the best way to write a novel or short story? Should you devise the plot, then make a detailed outline and finally begin to write? Or should you come up with a beginning that intrigues you enough that you want to start writing and see where it goes? Let's look at both.
Some writers are only comfortable writing a story that has all the basics lined up like fenceposts. They want that well-known beginning, middle and ending set before they put one word of the story on a piece of paper or computer screen. Some go so far as to have subheadings for each of those 3 general parts and detailed notes beneath each subheading. They will line up the characters, create a sheet for each one with glorious details. They may spend a great deal of time doing research that will help them write the story. These writers spend copious amounts of time preparing to write their book. They are definitely prepared.
Others have a glimmer of an idea, or perhaps an opening scene rattling around in their brain. They begin to write having no idea where the story will go. They also have no hint if their is actually enough to create a full story with that needed beginning, middle and ending but they're off on an adventure to find out. These writers let the story and the characters guide them. It may sound crazy but a lot of people write this way.
I have written only one novel, and that one is a juvenile historical fiction book. I had the general idea and sat down and started, having no inkling of how the book would end, didn't even have the middle section set in my mind. My main characters became my friends and they seemed to take the story on when I was at a standstill. They let me know each day that I wrote what direction we needed to go. Three-fourths of the way into the story, I still had no satisfying ending. I knew where I wanted my protagonist to be when the book ended but how was I going to get him there? I decided not to worry about it and kept writing, chapter after chapter. Soon, the end was in sight and I had no trouble writing a solution to the boy's problem. I allowed the story and the characters to guide me.
Is one way better than the other? I don't think so. A writer needs to use whatever method feels most comfortable to them.
I do think that those who write off the cuff with no outline etc have a lot more editing and filling in to do after the first draft is written. Maybe it's then that they do those character sketches for each of the main ones in the book to help them create a better character. The outline writer has done a lot of that work before ever writing a word of the story. They both put in the time, it's only a question of whether it's at the beginning or ending of that first draft.
Writers are individuals and they work in individual ways. Some do their best writing in the pre-dawn hours, while others spend the hours between breakfast and lunch to hit it hard. Still others prefer afternoons. No one way is the only way. We do whatever works best for us--whether it is the time of day you write or the way in which you write a novel.
Try it both ways and see which one feels the most comfortable for you. There might even be writers who do it both ways, although I'm guessing that most go one way or the other. If you've never written a novel, don't let the method stop you. Take the seed of an idea and run with it in whatever way feels right to you. It's the end result that counts most.