For me, the start of a story is a fickle, elusive element difficult to capture. Of all the parts of a story, it is where I spend the most time. The middle and end often write themselves, pouring out onto the page in a rush. But the beginning, the entry into the story, takes time and work to make it right. Over the years I have developed tactics to make the process easier.
If I have a strong image, I’ll just sit down and write. There is a good possibility I will, at the least, completely rewrite the first one to two chapters, and at the most I’ll delete those chapters all together and keep them as author information only. This has happened with two out of the three novels I’ve written so far.
If I don’t have an image begging me to be the start of the tale, then I sit down and do a character interview with my main character. I’ll ‘talk’ with the character about the story. This will often flow into a beginning.
This kind of character interview is also a great way to find out why a first chapter isn’t working.
In my current work in progress I have tried multiple chapter ones. The last version I and my beta readers liked the best, but there was still something wrong with it. As I have already rewritten it several times, I tried the character interview. During the interview, I realized the tone in one part was at odds with the rest of the story. The interview led directly into correcting that area and now, finally, I have a proper chapter 1. My betas agree, so it will remain.
If you’re a writer and you have other tactics you use, please feel free to comment. I would love to hear about the way others operate.