EVENTS UV Masterclasses Part 3


In the third and final Undiscovered Voices Masterclass, editor and author Catherine Coe and author and screenwriter Simon James Green discussed how to polish those opening lines. Andrew James reports.


In 'Hooking your reader from the start' Catherine and Simon dispelled the most common myths about openings and highlighted the key components that openings really do need. What are the common myths? We’ve heard them all before:

  • avoid exposition
  • start with action
  • make sure your first line sparkle
  • never, ever, ever use a prologue.

So should we ignore these conventions? Not exactly. They’re just not necessarily absolutes, nor should each be taken to extremes. With exposition, readers don’t want to see lots of clunky backstory, but they do need to know some details, otherwise it’s confusing. Exposition should come naturally. Trust your writing to be strong enough so you don’t need to cram the twists and turns into your opening.

Simon James Green.

Action’s great to start with, but don’t be fooled by the word 'action'. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something physical. For example, Alan Garner’s The Owl Service merely has the children hearing something in the attic. It’s intrigue we want. Physical action might work brilliantly for some genres but not for all, so try your best to interpret this into something appropriate for your story.

If a prologue is key to your story, if you have to have it, then why not just name it Chapter One? And a sparkly first line? Really, the whole book really needs to sparkle. If it does, you won’t need to worry about the first line. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?


So, what’s the big idea, dispelling myths we’ve worked so hard to adhere to? It’s about not getting too bogged down trying to follow rules, but instead using common sense to write a story with these conventions as guidelines.

That’s what not to do.

Here are the six key components every opening should have:

1. Start where your story really starts. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, yet aspiring writers continually make this mistake. Get to your inciting incident ASAP. It doesn’t have to start where it starts in your head. 

2. The next component? Voice! Oh, I know, you’ve had that feedback before. It is key though. The voice of your character, narrator and your voice as the author all have to shine through. Isn’t that why you love your favourite writers so much?

3. Component three? Use your characters to create engagement and connection. You have to know your characters inside out, but we don’t need every detail on the page. We can see brushstrokes in their actions and reactions, but again, this should feel natural. Don’t list their traits. It’s a classic show, don’t tell situation.

4. The fourth component is setting. Just because you can see it in your head, doesn’t mean your reader can. Your setting is likely as important as your characters, so use it.

5. The fifth component? Intrigue! You need to think about how you begin and end your chapters, the pacing of your story and how to hook the reader to keep turning those pages.

6. The sixth and final component is to give a sense of genre to your writing. It helps our judges (and your readers) understand where your story falls and what might come next. Conventions are useful but again, not absolutes. They can be broken, but that’s all part of your intrigue.

And that’s it. But, before I go, I’m leaving you with one final brilliant tip from our wonderful Benjamin Scott regarding your 50-word bio. Re-visit the previous anthologies (all free to download) and read some. You want the judges to be interested in you and see that you take your writing seriously. Think about how you present yourself.

Good luck and remember, it’s supposed to be fun!



Originally from the Lake District, Andrew James teaches English, Film and Media. He completed his MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths in 2018 and for the past five years, he has organised and hosted monthly agent pitch evenings for his local writing group. He has a passionate dislike for anything referred to as an ‘easy peeler.’ Satsumas are the only way to go.


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures online magazine. Contact her at


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