Characters. For me a character is built by his or her actions. I don't do drawn out character sketches, I don't draw up story boards on their lives. I start with a sense of who they are and then I start moving them around in my story. Maybe it's not the most efficient way, but it works for me. I have tried the other methods and I end up burning thousands of calories on the outlining only to discard it later when I begin writing.
I just stumbled over an article in RWR (from a back issue) titled "Are you writing your novel backwards." It was really good information and it made me think. My past two novels have definitely been written backwards and the problem with it isn't the end product--it's the fact that at the end, I have no idea how I wrote the book. That means I'm also baffled when it comes to duplicating the process and writing another. I took a hard look at this when I started my new book and decided to try another method.
I'll never be the kind of writer who has detailed outlines and knows every aspect down to how their characters like their beef cooked. But I have taken that instinctive process that got me through my first 3 books and identified steps that I can duplicate. I use a loose version of the Hero's journey and it gets me from point A to point Z and tells me which points I need to hit in between. I still don't know the exact details that will occur at every point--but I don't want to know those details until I get there. That's where the magic comes in and that's where my love of craft is firmly rooted. Writing a book has to be as exciting and unpredictable as reading a book is. Without the surprises, where is the joy?
So yes, I've changed my ways and use a structure and roadmap now. There are landmarks in my plan that will keep me moving in the right direction. I have a process I will use for each book I write. So is it still backwards? Maybe, but I don't care. It works and in the end, that's all a writer can really hope for.
By the way, I have a Myspace now. Of course I still don't know how to use it, but I have one. :-) Come visit me and be my friend: ttp://www.myspace.com/erin_grady