Then I get over that, and am able to have actual thoughts that are somewhat coherent. And when I get to that stage, it's pretty clear to me that the way I start stories is -- well. It's pretty clearly reflected in the out come, seeing as how so many of my stories mainly get by on atmosphere rather than any form of like, plot or structure or anything like that. (God forbid that I ever write a story with an actual plot.)
I usually start with a mood, or a sense that I want to convey. When I sit down to write a story (or when I did, lo those many years ago /end self pity), sometimes I'll have something as vague in my mind as a quality of light or the chalky feeling of old paint flaking between your fingers. Sometimes it'll be a particular intersection of emotions -- for instance, when I write Faith (you know, after the general Jossverse freak out I always have no matter what when I write any Joss-created character) I usually am trying to capture a violent vulnerabilty, a resigned, angry hurting affection. (And as I write this, I wonder if I could be any more art-house. I mean, if I tried? Maybe?) Often I find myself pulled toward claustrophobic relationships, where there's so much pressure that it'll power the characters I'm writing toward some kind of cathartic moment that's (me being me) usually rather understated.
I'm more interested in implosions than explosions.
A lot of times when I sit down to write, I'll have one line, and I'll build upwards from there. For a long time I had the line "When Horatio is next in Kingston, it will still smell like death" bouncing around in my head like a somewhat morbid bouncing ball, and eventually that became Rappeler.
There are the rare stories that I write to illustrate some principle of character, but those generally come out kind of wrong, or at least somewhat clinical (to me at least). I rarely know precisely what I'm doing or where I'm going when I sit down beyond the basic atmosphere I want to project, and I think that (and a lot of the way I write) is because I had it drilled into me over and over again in my poetry workshops that "writing is a discovery" and because I have actually spent much more time working on poetry in an academic setting than fiction. Fiction's still, like, my new thing that I'm feeling out.
Which is weird to say, because I've been telling stories all my life, (just like musesfool refers to in this post), but there you have it.