My process on BG has so far been uneven. For the first couple years, BG was only something I thought about after watching movies or reading books. The story changed wildly from one thought session to the next, as did the characters.
The second phase was a free writing stage where I would randomly write whatever scenes came into my mind. It was as much an exploration of writing as it was an exploration of the characters and the story.
After a long time, a story crystallized from the mess but the structure of the story was still more messy than it was cohesive. So I studied story structure and spent time outlining the plot for and re-conceptualizing parts of BG. In retrospect, that time was well spent and a part of me wishes I had outlined from the start.
That outlining fueled me for a long time. But eventually I found my story lacking in characterization. My organization of information was all over the place; it was sometimes difficult to find what I had written about certain characters. My characters were often coming off flat, and they started sounding similar to one another.
So now once again I've returned to outlining, with a focus on writing in depth character descriptions, desires, inspiration pictures, and biographies. Essentially, it is outlining the structure of each character. Giving bone structure to a name. Adding musculature. Carving imperfections. Couching them in the world through social and familial connections. Breathing life into them through the gift of individual intent.
And once again I wish I had done this outlining earlier. My understanding of the characters is so much better now. Where before I saw only shadows who had faces in specific situations, now I have a more specific vision of who they are when they're not in one of my scenes. Maybe other authors can just create characters in their minds with enough individuality and sufficient specificity that outlining would be a waste of time. I am not that naturally gifted.
Most of my dialogue from part one will now need to be updated. I am certain individual characters will not behave quite as I have so far described. Scenes will need to be changed. Some may no longer exist and others may spring unexpectedly into existence.
Do I regret not outlining more thoroughly earlier? A bit. But then again, perhaps not. I may not have been ready to tackle those issues as an author. It is conceivable that my process has proceeded exactly as it must have because I needed to address certain issues at certain times in my writing progression.
Having said all that, if I ever finish BG and start on another novel then I will most definitely spend the time to outline plot first as well as making detailed character outlines. It can be so frustrating to feel like you're not making any progress on the novel while you're outlining. Outlining is a hugely painstaking process. At least it is for me.
For example, I've spent a week just working on character outlines (and will probably spend one more week before being finished with every major and minor character). After characters, the next step for me is to thoroughly outline every scene, taking my new characterizations into account. Finally I will add any necessary scenes for connecting the dots between the scenes I have already planned. No clue how long that will take, but I have bought in to this outlining business. It has greatly improved the quality of my story already, and long may that continue.
What about you? Do you outline? What's your process?