Plotters and pantsers work in very different ways: pantsers dive in and start writing, then figure out the structure of the story later, whereas plotters work out the structure first and then dive in. Either way is perfectly valid. Most people do some combination of both, and a lot of people start out pantsers and work their way toward being plotters. I did. And even though I'm very much a plotter, I still "leave room for pants" as I said in a chat once.
I'm a plotter because what I see first, when that idea first hits, are certain emotionally charged scenes. They're often climaxes, or at least points where conflicts turn razor-edged. This happened with Disciple, too -- there were certain scenes haunting me for months before I got to write them. Where my creative gut gets these, I don't know... well, maybe that's not entirely true, but it's too personal to go into. At any given moment, there are scraps of ideas floating around, and sometimes they blossom into scenes.
The challenge is: how do I get the characters to these situations? Why did it have to happen? What will the consequences be?
For example, here's something from the very first notes I wrote for this story:
The shepherd overheard something, out in the woods — bandits? enemy hill tribe? — and they chased him, but he got away. He’s been living in fear ever since. But he has to tend his flocks, they’re his and his parents’ income. He ought to tell the Rangers, but that would out him as the snoop. It’s someone he knows. Blood relation?I'd had a vague sense of setting: the hill country on the border between two kingdoms. Someplace where there's little border regulation aside from suspicion of outsiders. The moment I saw, specifically, was a young man breathing hard from running, leaning against a tree or maybe a barn doorsill, raking one hand into his hair as he agonized over what the hell am I going to do now?
Conflict. Nice, clear conflict. Why? How? What's the price of him going to the Rangers? Or not? What's the breaking point going to be?
I've got a fairly solid outline, now, but there are still places where I'll have to work things out "in the field" with the characters. Especially around the climax -- I've found it's a good idea to let the details of that figure themselves out along the way. I have an idea what will happen, but if the characters want to surprise me, I'll roll with it.
What sorts of things do you leave room for in your outlines, if you're a plotter?