If you have ever, ever even thought of having a writing career, chances are that you googled the heck out of it. There had to be a secret, right? A formula of some kind that would lead to instant best sellers? Well what did this author do, or this one, and how can I emulate that? With all of those questions, I just know that google gave you a wide range of rules, articles, suggestions, and blog posts devoted to the subject of writing the 'next big thing.'
I know, because I did it too. Looking up this formula that a novel needs, I started constructing my projects around everything I thought I needed. From long, confusing, intricate character back stories, to advanced molecular world building. And I was so caught up in trying to construct this perfect version of a novel that I lost something far more precious: the story.
That's when I chucked all of the rules. I no longer write novels. I write stories. If I can turn them into novels during editing: fantastic. If their sole purpose is to entertain me and no others: fine. Should they never pass under the eyes of another person: so be it. However, I will never again write according to a formula. (Not to say, I won't take a good, long, hard look at those rules come time to edit.)
Now, this isn't true for everyone. Many people, in fact, can take these rules and use them as a frame work for an idea of theirs and it helps to flesh out the rest of the plot, characters, pace, and theme. That is awesome! I'm just not one of those capable individuals.
A lot of it has to do with how an idea comes to me. Either it'll start with a single thought, and then the cast will show up, and one or two of them step forward and go, "Okay, so this is how it happened. You might want to take notes."
Other times, it starts with a single individual. A fully-formed, get-to-know-me-as-you're-writing individual. Those awesome, intricate, cool little character charts? Yeah, I don't get to use those. Ever. My characters raise their eyebrows (because very few are capable of that one-eyebrow trick) at me, scoff, and tell me to get back to work on the actual story. I have to get to know them based upon the situations they are put in. Which also brings me to...
I have no control over what I write. It sounds like a joke, but I'm dead serious. As with characters, the plot starts with an idea. From there, I build on before and after sequences. A lot of what happens is that I'm hit with a few distinct scenes that I write down a.s.a.p. Then I do this thing I call 'patchwork writing'. This is where I write out whatever scenes come to me, then when enough hints are gathered, I start filling in the missing scenes, stitching them all together.
If you think any amount of planning goes into this, or anything more than the most basic of outlining, you would be mistaken. Again, all of those helpful little lists and charts and fun little creative ideas available on the internet do not help me.
I guess the point of this is: it doesn't have to work for you. Think of the rules more as a set of guidelines. When you're first starting out, do what feels right. Write the story.