Novelists generally fall into one of two categories, plotters and pantsers. Plotters work through their stories, often in detailed outline form, before they actually start to write the narrative. Pantsers do it by the seat of their pants; they begin with a basic idea, a character, an image, and follow it until they have a story. ...Read the whole thing. Most authors would be satisfied simply discussing their personal approaches, but if you've ever spent any time on Hallinan's blog, you know he's into providing value for his readers. Not only does he answer the question himself, he punts it over to authors such as Stephen Jay Schwartz (Boulevard), Rebecca Cantrell (A Trace of Smoke), Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand) and Leighton Gage (Dying Gasp). So far eight writers have contributed their two cents, and new posts from new authors are publishing each and every Wednesday.
Both plotters and pantsers can produce wonderful books. When the book is good, I think it's impossible to tell which approach the author took to making the story.
On the other hand, it's often possible to tell whether a bad book was written by a plotter or a pantser. Plotters tend to turn out bad books in which the plot becomes a box for the characters, a rigid floor plan in which structure takes precedence over psychology and/or emotion. A bad book by a pantser is likely to be meandering and formless, a kind of story spaghetti in which the characters interact and tangle to little effect, and the whole mess swims in a sauce of undifferentiated emotion.
(Picture: CC 2008 by Susan NYC)