I've decided to share with you my method(s) of writing a novel. I'm certainly no expert, but there's no decisive rule that states how one must write a novel. We all do it differently, sometimes sharing common methods and tools. It's an opportune time to share my methods since I recently started my 4th adult novel, Thirteen.
My methods have evolved over the course of four novels. However, there is one common thread that links all four: evolution of that one spark that creates an inferno of ideas in my mind. I'll use Heart of Darkness as a concrete example of how that spark ignited.
The Spark: One day I was reading a newspaper story about a local trade secret theft lawsuit between 2 Silicon valley high-tech companies. I thought it would make a good suspense premise.
Ignition: Since I was ready for a new story idea, the spark started an idea in my head about a heroine who becomes involved in a similar theft.
Flames: My character emerged, however, her involvement was to find the person(s) who had murdered her father because of his involvement in the theft.
Flames: I have a fondness for paranormal and urban fantasy fiction and at the time had been reading Druid inspired fantasy. So my character had to be a Druid with certain powers. The trade secret theft sounded convoluted (and a little boring!), so the idea turned into theft of ancient Druid artifacts.
The ideas spread like wildfire until I had a conceptual idea with a main character, a setting, point of view, a plausible set of villains, a suspense element and a romance element.
I was past ready to conceptualize a new novel, so my mind was an open cavern and filled with ideas about this character and her story. This is usually how a new story comes to me....a simple spark of an idea (related or unrelated to the story), whether it stems from something I've read, heard, seen, or experienced. It's exciting and fun and it can be rare and fleeting. You have to grab hold and run with it or that spark will grow cold.