People have asked where I get ideas for my books. The truth is, my ideas come to me as I write. Something appeals to me; a situation or a problem, and as I write the story, I work out how my characters will deal with it. In the meantime, I do a lot of research on the time and place in question. I very seldom sit down to outline a complete story, before I begin to write. Generally, I think about who my characters are, and what they want to accomplish as I compose the story. Once the situation my characters have found themselves in is established, then each writing session consists of — OK, what must happen next?
If they are in another time or country, then I generally have to do some research, to make sure I am getting the details of that place right. It is surprising how often I find that the story lies in those details. What did people have to do, two, three and four hundred years ago, in order to satisfy their daily needs? Not only must my characters meet the goals they bring with them from the twenty-first century, but they must do this within the context of a different time and place. Very often, my research will tell me what must happen next, and how it will happen.
Towards the end of the book, once I know how the story will reach its peak moment, I may outline what must be included in the final pages, to make sure all the little story strings are comfortably tied.
Building a story that stretches out to novel proportions is a page by page process, and each writer who undertakes to tell such a story must work out the method that works best for him. What works well for writer A may be completely different from what works well for writer B.
Some writers do like to work out each scene ahead of time, before they even begin to write their first draft, and this may be very necessary for a mystery novel, where you do not want to let your readers know how the main event happened, until the very end, and you do want to make sure that any clues dropped along the way add up to the final conclusion, even if the writer is purposely misleading his readers. It may also be necessary to outline your action novel, just so you do not forget what the story is that holds all your action scenes together.
The process for writing novels that are character driven can be wonderfully organic. Who and what your protagonist is evolves as you tell his story. What your protagonist wants to accomplish and how he expects to do that reveal themselves like the petals of a lotus, or the layers of an onion, as you continue to write. Do not be afraid to experiment until you have found the system or method that works best for you.