One question I heard asked both at the Fleming County panel and the February Romance Writers Panel in Woodford County was "Are you a plotter or a pantser?" For those of you not familiar with the latter term, "pantser" refers to writers who write their book "by the seat of their pants," meaning they don't outline or plan ahead. They just sit down and let it flow out of them.
I'm a bit of both. For me, writing a novel is like going on a road trip without time restrictions. With that kind of road trip, you know where you're starting from, who you're going with, and where you want to end up. However, there are a lot of different roads you can take to get there. Even Google Maps understands that concept and gives you choices of ways to get to your ultimate destination.
When I start a novel, I have characters, a general idea of the story, and I know how it's going to end. But, like the road trip, there are many different ways to get there. While I don't outline, I do write a brief synopsis of each chapter, but only do a few chapters ahead. As I progress, I plan a few more. I find as I "travel" through my book that the path to get to the end usually changes. A character decides to behave in a way I didn't think of at the beginning or a new character butts his or her nose into the story and the path veers off in a different direction.
Come to think of it, I guess writing fiction isn't just like going on a road trip; it's also like life. We all know where we're going to end up, but, boy, are there a lot of ways to get there! And if we pick the right ways, life can be as interesting and exciting as any novel.