My friend is slowly dipping her toe into fiction, after years in journalism, and posed the question: where do you start - at the beginning or do you jot down scenes and fill in the blanks as you go. Here is my answer to her, and I'd love to hear your answers as well!
I just saw this, and thanks again for picking up my book! As for me, I do start at the very beginning. (Though I know have Julie Andrews singing in my head!) I do this for a couple of reasons: 1) the first chapter of the book is maybe the most important, in terms of letting readers know everything they need to know about your lead character, and I've found, for me, that picking the exact precise moment of where to start the book helps set the stage for the rest of it. For example, and this might really clarify what I'm talking about: in the very first draft of The Department, I had 99 OTHER PAGES before the first page that you read now. Yikes! I had all of these scenes leading up to Natalie discovering the lump and getting her diagnosis, etc, but guess what? It turned out that all of these were unnecessary, and that I could take various ideas from those 99 pages and weave them into what is now the first chapter: BAM - there's a paragraph about the discovery of the lump, BAM, there's a paragraph about what a loser her boyfriend is, BAM, there a nugget about her job, etc. So once I realized how critical that first chapter was (and again, I've learned so much from writing that book!) in terms of stage setting, I tend to really focus on it a lot when I'm writing a book. A reader should immediately be brought into the action, and for me, to start elsewhere - another scene or whatever - might not ensure this immediacy because you'd have to work backwards in your writing (and thinking). If that makes sense. But again, this is just what works for me.
Another reason that I start at the beginning is the fact that I DO let my character speak to me. Which, until you've really been possessed by fiction, sounds incredibly hokey and eye-rolling-worthy. But I let them take me where they want to go - I don't create a master outline or an overall plan - and if I started with a difference scene, it tamper with the organic nature of my writing. Wow, does that sound ridiculous! What I mean is that my characters wander down their own path, and if I placed them in a scene smack dab in the middle of the path without knowing exactly what led them there, it might lack some sort of realistic cohesion. I think this is probably similar to what Stephen King does too (not that I'm comparing myself to him!), in that I have a general premise/situation, some lead characters, and then I go, go, go. (Note to AA readers: the Stephen King comment here was in reference to someone else's mention of him on the forum and what he states in his book, On Writing.)
So what say you readers? How do you tackle those first few steps of a new book?