The more I talk to other authors about craft the clearer it is that novelists use a huge range of different planning styles. People talk about “Planners” vs. “Pantsers,” i.e., people who plan books and series in advance vs. people who plunge in and write by the seat of their pants. Each category contains a spectrum, for instance people who plan just the major plot points vs. people who plan every chapter. But even then, authors who are improvisational about some parts of storymaking can be very much plotters when it comes to others.
Characters, plot, and setting—or, for genre fiction, world building—are very visible. They tend to be what we talk about most when geeking out about a favorite book: a plot twist, a favorite character’s death, the awesome magic system or interstellar travel system. Sometimes an author will develop a world or characters in detail before writing but not outline the chapters or think through a plot. I develop the world first, then develop characters within the world, and then make my chapter-by-chapter outline. But even those stages of world building and character aren’t the first stage of my process. I want to talk about some of the less-conspicuous, less-discussed elements of a novel which, I think, a lot of writers—pantsers or plotters—begin with.