Monday, 19 January 2015


Recently, an editor asked me to complete a Q&A for a new blog and one of the questions she asked was:  Which is more difficult to write - the first line of a book, or the last?

I didn't have to think about it for more than a nano-second.  For me, the end of a story practically writes itself.  By that stage you know your characters inside out and you've shared every step of their unique journey.  You've witnessed all the heartache and heartbreak and all the different highs and lows along the way.  You need to tie up all the loose ends in an emotionally satisfying way and you also need to leave your reader wanting more.  To have them think:  "I like the way this writer tells a story."

But the beginning?  That tantalising first line we call The Hook?  Now that's a completely different ball-game.
There are almost too many choices to make about how to open your story.  Do you start from his POV?  Or hers?  Do you use narrative, or dialogue?
As always, it depends on the characters.  Ask yourself who has the most to lose and then put yourself in their skin and try to convey some of their fears.  Hook the reader right in by getting all those big emotions and feelings on the page, so that they can experience them vicariously.  Create characters who have real guts.  Give them a heart and a soul, as well as all the frailties and flaws which make us truly human.

With SEDUCED BY THE SULTAN (I've shown the yummy French cover above) the story starts from Catrin's point of view.  She's is the ordinary girl who has undergone a Cinderella-type makeover so that she's worthy of being the mistress of a hugely wealthy King.  The story starts when she realises that she's broken the number one rule of being a mistress - by falling in love!

I used narrative to convey Catrin's innermost thoughts and turmoil.  There was no way I could have started the book with dialogue since she is alone in the Sultan's luxury apartment and I'm not crazy about characters who talk to themselves (because it makes them sound crazy!).

It seems like an impossible love-affair and those are the ones I like best.  So that love can do the thing it's supposed to do and conquer all.

Think about the most memorable first lines you've ever read and then analyse why they've stayed with you.  For me, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents." is one of my favourites.

What's yours?


  1. Fascinating post Sharon, many thanks. For a first line hook, I always think Orwell had it nailed...

    'It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'

    Really is a case of 'less is more' though. His first draft read as follows:

    'It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen.'


    1. Yes Jack, a brilliant example of "less is more" - I might do a blog post about that one day…
      And such an iconic line - you are second person to have drawn my attention to this particular masterpiece. 1984 remains one of my all-time favourite books.

  2. Beautiful post - Sharon. I have no doubt for a first line... I always think of Marguerite Duras's Prix Goncourt novel "The Lover".

    "Very early in my life, it was too late".

    Following this:
    At eighteen it was already too late. At eighteen I aged. This aging was brutal. This aging, I saw it spread over my features, one by one. Instead of being frightened by it, I saw this aging of my face with the same sort of interest I might have taken for example in the reading of a book. That new face I kept it. It's kept the same contours, but its matter is destroyed. I have a destroyed face. Let me tell you again: I'm fifteen and a half. It's the crossing of a ferry on the Mekong.

    M x

    1. Wow - this is heavy stuff, Michela - and I don't know this book at all. As usual, you have inspired me and I shall look it out.

  3. Great blog Sharon! My fav opening line from Gone With The Wind - “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it.”

    1. Thanks, Jen. I LOVE this line! It tells you so much in such a few words. Unconventional descriptions of characters' appearances allow the reader to create their own vision...