A couple of weeks ago, I finished the full draft of my new novel, THE ROSE OF GALILEE. As I got to the end, I began the ending line.
For HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, I didn’t really consider it. It just ended where it ended, and I was happy. Of course, back then I didn’t think about technique too much, which might possibly be why it took so darn long to write it.
The last line of that book is, “I laughed.”
These days, however, I think more about technical stuff while I write.
So who cares about the final sentence? The last line gives you a moment that makes you catch your breath. It should be satisfying, a summing up of the novel’s themes.
There’s a discussion about last lines on the BBC . Listen if you get a chance. They theorize that a) people don’t remember last lines very well and b) you only have to grab the audience with the first line, so authors tend to get lazy by the end.
I think this is true. I certainly don’t remember very many last lines. The only one that I sort of remember is this:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
And I think that’s only because it was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon or something.
However. This doesn’t mean that authors shouldn’t pay attention to last lines. There’s a lot of stuff we have to pay attention to as authors that readers don’t, or shouldn’t notice, right? It’s like a well-made garment, with even stitches and reinforced buttonholes that no one except the seamstress sees, unless you look for it.
While the first line might get you to read a book, maybe the last line will get you to read the next book. Or at least walk away thinking, Hey, that was a good read. Glad I spent my money on that.
I looked up Best Last Lines and found that American Book Review had compiled a list of the best 100. Here are a few of my favorites from that list:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.” –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” –J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
“It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by.” –Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)
“We shall never be again as we were!” –Henry James, The Wings of the Dove (1902)
“She sat staring with her eyes shut, into his eyes, and felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn’t begin, and she saw him moving farther and farther away, farther and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light.”–Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (1952)
And I’m not telling you the last line of my new novel yet.