Is there a proper way to begin a novel?
Can you just sit down and write the thing? Some people claim to do this. They sit down with no outline, no character sketches, no idea of where there story is going, and they just write until its done. A few revisions, and - voila!
I'd hate them if I didn't think they were lying.
They may not have a laboriously worked out an outline, a calendar of events, and collected photos torn from magazines that remind them of the characters in their heads, but they fricking have more than a vague idea! It's been percolating in their brains for weeks/months/years, and by gum, they do so have an idea of where it's headed!
And the real, evil, fabulous truth? Most of them do LOTS of revising.
Don't get me wrong. Unless you're Aaron Sorkin, all writers do lots of revising. But those who do not outline/blah blah blah do LOTS of revising. (And Aaron Sorkin perpetrated Studio 60 on us, so maybe he should look into this revision thing.)
So I advocate starting with a plan of some kind. You may not have all 8 acts or follow the Joseph Campbell hero's journey, or whatever. But figure out who wants what and where they end up with it first. It'll save you grief later.
That said, I wrote the first three pages of a novel over the weekend without a completely worked out outline. It was fun! But I have been working on the character, my world's mythology, and have a vague outline of the story in my head. I just skipped ahead a bit to remind myself of the fun to come so I can finish outlining with a lighter heart.