When you say first chapter, as far as I’m concerned you might as well say first THREE chapters. I pretty much lump them together as a single unit, and the momentum I get in starting a new story tends to keep me revved for at least the first sixty pages or so, although it won’t be perfect and I’ll be fixing things later. I typically begin with a snippet of an idea, nothing more than a premise. Usually it’s an event that sets the course of the heroine’s life on a new track, an extraordinary circumstance that will eventually toss her lot in with the hero’s. In fact for whatever reason, I feel most comfortable beginning with the heroine’s pov. Maybe because I like to pretend I’m her? After all, she is in the enviable position of setting off on an adventure where she gets to meet the hunky hero; and her fantasies are, after all, my fantasies. Yes, it’s true.
I’ve never been a pre-planner, not the kind of writer who sketches out the entire plot in an outline and then follows it closely (until very recently, that is), but from that original premise or situation (in Sophie’s case in Dark Temptation, sneaking off to Edgecombe when she’s been warned not to), there usually comes a whole slew of details: who these people are, where they come from and why they’re where they are now, what drives them, what they’re trying to escape — because let’s face it, everyone is trying to escape something, even if it’s their own burdened soul. I don’t know EVERYTHING about the characters at this point and will definitely have to go back and fill in details later, but at this point I know enough. Where does all this information come from? To quote a line from SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, “I don’t know, it’s a mystery.” I’m just glad it materializes from somewhere in that dusty old brain of mine!Hmm. There’s someone standing there, isn’t there? Hey, you never know what might be rattling around up there.
Anyway, once I’m in that sexy little sportscar racing along the countryside, it’s a wild ride frought with danger, excitement and many possible pitfalls. Even so, it’s hands on the wheel, foot to the gas pedal. Stalling in the early stages of a manuscript isn’t an option, unless of course the idea just won’t fly. I happen believe that, at least for me, sputtering to a halt partway through the opening pages means a vital element in the story just isn’t working, and then no matter how painful it may be, it really is time to start over. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me in a long while.
For you writers out there, how well do you like to know your characters before you begin that first chapter? Do you sit down beforehand and interview them with a long list of questions about the particulars of their lives, or do you enjoy getting to know them as the story progresses? Here’s a question for you readers, and tell the truth now! Do you tend to skip prologues and go right to chapter one?