Do you usually know the heart of something when you start writing it, or do you have to have dig around to find it first?
What I always say is that the two things I first need to know are what the story’s about, and what the book’s *really* about. That is to say, the basic plot, often very basic, and what I’m actually there to talk about, the themes and subjects of the book. Story without theme is just a bunch of typing. Often, the themes — the stuff I’m actually there to talk about — will assemble themselves before the plotline.
And, also, the end. I do need to have a clue of how it ends. I’ve been known to start with the ending and work backwards. I mean, to the point where I thought of an ending first, gathered the themes that suggested themselves from the ending, and then plotted in reverse time up to the opening scene.