As much as it sounds like one, no, that isn’t a trick question. And we’re not talking about ghost-writers either.
There are many voices involved when writing. Some of these we’re aware of, others are more ambiguous. We all bring with us, after all, however subconsciously, our prior experiences (whether we remember them or not).
As such, there are many ways a story can come together, but most of them can be boiled down to being either a) author driven or b) character driven.
Author driven stories are probably the easier to define. They are typed, scribbled or otherwise find their way onto paper or into a word-program – just like the character driven stories – by an author.
Everything put down on paper, every revision, every idea, comes from the conscious thoughts of the author himself or herself. They may be inspired by anything, take on suggestions, and change their minds about what is happening as the story goes along, but, ultimately, they’re the definitive decision-maker as to what they choose to put into said story.
There’s a good chance this type of author will plan out the story in advance, separately, and go into it knowing – more or less – what is going to happen, because they’re the ones who have decided that it is what should happen. They’ve sat down and carefully thought about who the characters are, what motivates them, what happened to one of them when they were five that gave them the drive to actually survive the story in the first place, and they actively create the settings, the scenery and the plots.
If you ask a writer who writes author driven stories what their story is about, there’s a good chance you’ll be given a detailed explanation (if they’re the kind of person who likes sharing, not everyone does).
However, if you ask a writer of character driven stories the same question, you’re much more likely to get their favoured version of “ummm…” at least if you do it while they’re in the middle of writing it? Why?
Character driven stories are, just like their siblings, typed or put on paper, by an actual author. Unlike those, this is because the characters simply can’t type it themselves.
This type of writer, usually, doesn’t plot out the details of the story beforehand (on paper, anyway), because it’s fluid and changes – a lot – as each new scene, setting or character reveals more about what is happening.
If they’re fortunate, the characters are easy to work with, show up on time, and know their lines. If they’re not so lucky, they end up with the chrono-hopping, ooops forget what I just told you it was an alternate reality, stubborn ones who, when they’ve finally reached that all-important event that has been planned (yes, even this type of author tries to make plans) from the start, decide that instead of saving the planet from alien invaders, they should go home and have lunch (or, occasionally, die).
Prior knowledge and experiences count as much for these as for their counterparts, but it tends to be applied more unconsciously and the details of the story and the characters will grow organically over time.
One way isn’t better than the other, but I’ve found that the two types of authors often have difficulty in understanding where the other is coming from.