This is a topic that tends to come up (eventually) whenever writers start talking about writing. Particularly as we come up on NaNoWriMo, you’ll see people talking about being a “pantster” or a “planner.” Do you write “by the seat of your pants” or do you plan out your novel in advance?
I tend to start with a good mental outline for the first half of a story, get a good feel for the characters, and then just start writing. What I usually find, however, is that I have to go back and write out full character sketches and outline the last half of the plot. When my latest short story got stuck, I worked through the book 45 Master Characters to figure out where the plot was going next.
Maybe things would go smoother if I outlined first, but this seems to work most of the time. The only time I extensively outlined was in 2011, when I “won” NaNoWriMo. I actually started with a pretty full outline and full-page sketches for each of the two main characters. That seemed to work well for me to be able to finish a novel in a month, and I’ll try to do something similar this year. What’s your outlining style?