Way back when (let's not be too precise!) I used a pencil (easy to erase), a lined exercise book and dived straight in. The result was pages of indecipherable scribble which meandered with no clear direction. The acquisition of a typewriter meant I could actually read what was written on the page. This was not good. The heroine started out a Nordic blonde which became ash-blonde in the second chapter. The hero's dark eyes changed from brown to slate grey. At least their names remained the same, as did the location.
I needed to be efficient and incorporate a plan. Maybe a character bibliography? Describe the home in which they live, the cars they drive ... even better, employ the visual and search magazines for pictures. This was fun, searching for the actor or model with the right facial features to depict each main character, external and internal pictures of the house, a romantic scene, a sailboat on a glass-smooth lake. Choosing the season.
Incorporating a brief page with this is a story about ... who wants ... but ... because.
Prep work. Over the years I've refined and defined it to suit what works for me. I tried pictures pinned to a cork board ... the cat became fascinated with the drawing pins and pulled them out with his claws (should I mention I'm a cat person with two beautiful Birmans who like to sit on my desk as I work?). Next came folders I could close (and cats couldn't open), except one of the cats chose to sit on it. Okay ... a stand-alone display folder did the trick beautifully. It was only occasionally the cat head-butted it over the edge of the desk. Firm words were said, and we reached a mutual agreement ... he could occupy space on the desk, but the display folder stays.There's a clipboard between keyboard and monitor (check out the photo with cat sitting on same) with printed bibliography on one side, and proposed high points for the work-in-progress on the other. Plus notes, both handwritten and printed.
When I sit down at the computer, it helps to take me there, into the story, the characters ... a delightful fictional world where everything takes shape and form, acquires colours and moods as the characters speak to me.
Of course, there are times when the Muse goes AWOL and I have to prise each word as if chiseling stone ... (but that's another thread!)
So how do you prepare? What methods do you employ to begin?