How to Write a Great Last Line
Don’t you just love it when a line in a book so good, that you just have to stop reading to appreciate it for a few minutes? Me too. I think that’s part of the reason I began writing – to, just once – write one of those sentences.
You can find them scattered throughout books, of course (Jodi Picoult…sigh) But I think they’re most often at the very beginning, or the very end of a book. (I wrote a blog on first sentences. You can read it here.) Why? Well, I have to admit, as an author, I spend more time thinking/editing/writing/crafting those words than any other in the book. Are you the same?
Before we talk about how to do that – lets indulge ourselves (okay, we’ll wallow) in some amazing last lines, shall we?
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.” Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me. “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
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“Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
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“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
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“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Animal Farm, George Orwell
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“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”
Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
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And I have to include what is possibly my fave last line of all time:
“The lesson of the beet, then, is this: hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown. Once you’re brown, you’ll find that you’re blue. As blue as indigo. And you know what that means: Indigo, Indigoing, Indigone.”
Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
Great. Now that we all feel like hacks – how do they DO that?
- Questions and answers – Think about your story as a series of questions and answers. Underline sentences that put a question in a reader’s mind, and circle the ones that answer the question. You know that all the questions have to have answers before you write that last sentence, right? So maybe your last line is a question from the protagonist – about what they’ve learned?
- Summation – maybe the last line is an amazing line, that sums up the book’s theme. This is the end of my ‘sister story’, Days Made of Glass: “Harlie had come to accept that the dreams they’d held were children’s dreams. Her dreams now were smaller, and farther out. But they were no less sweet for that.”
- You may have already written it! Reread your last chapter. It’s possible your last sentence is in there – just in the wrong place.
- Other thoughts –
- Reiterate your first line – Have you read, Water for Elephants? Freakin’ brilliant. If you have a wonderful first line, see if it’ll work as a last line. Talk about tying up a book in a neat bundle!
- Cadence, Cadence, Cadence – As important as the words themselves, a memorable last line needs cadence. See Tom Robbins’ example above.
- Write the last sentence first – It gives me hives to even type that, but John Irving did it, and he’s sold a few books, so…
- Emotion trumps all – If it’s emotional, it’s going to be a winner. After all, the reader is already emotional about getting to the last page, right? Hit ’em where it hurts!
Your turn! Share a favorite last line from one of your books – or someone else’s!
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