From the first spark of inspiration to the first words of a novel there is a bit of magic that happens. Whether you're an outliner (writer who works off an outline) or a pantser (writer who flies by the seat of their pants without an outline) there must first be an idea that comes from some type of inspiration. The idea can be based off something that amuses, entertains, frustrates, angers, or inspires you. Regardless of the motivation it must strike a cord within you. Keeping that in mind later as you write the novel will help keep it focused and strong. It will also help you write a one-sentence logline or pitch if that's something you'll need or want.
The next part is where the magic comes in, the discovery or creation of the story. I like to think of it as more of a discovery because the way I write is by letting the characters tell me their story. This keeps it organic and natural. If you write this way be careful not to let it distance you though. Telling someone else's story can start to feel that way. If you are a creation type of writer then you probably pour a lot of yourself into your writing. That can be very powerful but you have to be careful not to do the opposite. Remember the reader, your audience, and tell the story for them as well.
Once I have the idea I like to get to know my characters before I write a single word. It helps form the story for me. Some writers are the opposite, they like to get to know their characters during the process of writing. That's excellent as well, you have to do what works for you. Just don’t forget to get to know them because if you don't, neither will your readers. The magic is making the story come alive and for me that comes from my characters because without them the story is only an empty shell.