Monday, November 9, 2009

Endings Part 1: Last Lines

Much is made of the first few lines of a novel, but I haven’t seen a lot in the way of endings. Obviously, beginnings are more important in that they hook readers (and agents, etc.) and play a large part in the decision to purchase a book. But endings have their place too. They can be satisfying or leave you wanting more; they can set the story up for more in a series. Endings to stories play a huge role in reader satisfaction, don't you think?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about endings in general, but right now lets talk about ending lines. Last lines can either carry a lot of import or they can be throw-aways—but in my opinion, if they’re done right, they’ll be clever, significant, and carry meaning. If they’re very clever, they’ll tie back to the rest of the story.

Some great endings:
Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.

–Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
Ah, the quintessential last line. Leaves you wondering, but also underscores wonderfully Scarlett's unflappable determination, which is arguably her only endearing characteristic.
Are there any questions?

-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
This is good because of course there are questions: the world has been turned upside down in the story.
But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

–A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
Extremely satisfying, this. This line nicely sums up the emotion of the story: the enduring friendship between the boy and his bear.

Now here’s a few from my favorite novels:
Why don't we go and find out?

-Rosamunde Pilcher, Coming Home
Coming Home is my most favorite novel. I love this ending line because it both resolves promise for the characters and also sums up the struggle of the main charachter throughout the novel. It follows on a conversation the two main characters are having about telling their loved ones that they've just become an item. And one says "What will they say?"
So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.

-The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
This ending line absolutely sets us up for the second book, but it also does a nice job of referring back to the whole atmosphere of the sort of steam-punkish alternate world they're in and pays tribute to the fact that Lyra is growing up and out of her world.

And finally, what would the list be without one from Marian Keyes, this one from her book Rachel's Holiday:
"Rachel," he said when he finally reached me. To my disbelief, I watched him get down on one knee. And the crowd went wild! He took my hand. "I suppose," he said, looking deep into my eyes. "Getting naked together is out of the question?"
I included a bit more here, because this is the way it's printed in my copy: all as one paragraph. But the final line, "Getting naked together is out of the question?" does a nice job of encapsulating the humor and the seriousness of the book, which is about drug addiction and recovery. This end line is very typical of Marian Keyes and therefore a good example.

What are your favorite last lines?


Jennifer Shirk said...

I think ending lines are VERY important. It's the last thing the reader will have in her mind when she closes the book.
I don't know if I have a favorite. Most of the ones I like give me that "happy sigh" moment as I close the book. :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Jennifer! If you think of any in particular that you loved, please post. For my part, I love thinking of the perfect ending line. I once ended a novel with "Yes." I felt this summed up the character and the story and the resolution--because the MC had been saying "yes, yes" all through the book, mostly inappropriately.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I can't say I have favorite lines, but I try to end scenes and chapters with a hook. Great post.

Lynnette Labelle

Travener said...

"...and first I put my arms around him yes drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." James Joyce, Ulysses.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Travener, apparently I channel James Joyce and didn't even know it. I've never finished Ulysses so I wouldn't have known that. Nice one!

CKHB said...

Yay! What a perfect post to tie in with my John Irving post (since he always writes his last lines first, and has yet to change a single one in rewrite).

In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.
-The World According to Garp

It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.
-Moby Dick

...but still I turn to her, my eyes interested, a serious smile, nodding, my hand squeezing her knee, and she
-The Rules of Attraction

(And I will not spoiler it here, but I *LOVE* the last line of my own novel...)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Oh come on Carrie! I'm dying to know now. Can you give us a hint, or post something that is similar but not quite it? (And is that how The Rules of Attraction ends, in mid sentence??)

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I love last lines!

I can't wait to write mine. Maybe I'll work on the end of my novel tomorrow.

Mwah! Thanks for posting this.

Too Cute to be Very Interesting said...

My favorite last line was from A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I wish I could remember how it went...I'd go look, but it's on the bookshelf in my three year old's room and god forbid I wake her up sneaking in there....

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