Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to Write A Killer Ending, Part 3

A billion of him typing in a room would certainly generate a killer ending.

We're talking about last lines in fiction that resonate. That final sentence can seem truly satisfying when it chimes with or against the novel's opening. A reader may not get it consciously, but on some level the line stirs a memory and feels just right. We've come full circle on the wheel, the ride is over.

Here's an example from a YA novel I'm reading now, A Long, Long Sleep, by Anna Sheehan. The premise: a Sleeping Beauty tale set in the distant future. Rose has been asleep in a stass tube for sixty-two years. The opening line:

"I'd try to hold on to my stass dreams for as long as I could."

The line sets us up: We know that Rose is very comfortable in dream-mode; you can feel her clutching at sleep, refusing to relinquish herself to life.

Now the last line of the book, and I don't think I need a spoiler alert here:

"But if nothing else, I am wide awake."

It's possible to guess what happens to Rose, in the broad sense, isn't it? Her live wakefulness is exactly opposite of where she started, refusing to get up and face the world. Her eyes are open physically, emotionally, and intellectually. hold on to my dreams >>>>>>>>>>wide awake.

You can do this too -- Last lines are fun!
Here's another example, from Scott Spencer's novel, A Ship Made of Paper.

First Line: "Daniel and Hampton were paired by chance and against their wishes."
And the end: "He reaches for her. 'No,' he says, 'it's too late for that. There's no turning back.'"

(Yeah, yeah, I know, that's three lines) Daniel has no volition, he's stuck with an intolerable partner >>>>>>>>>>Daniel reaches out to the woman he loves, trying to hold on to her.

Yowza, isn't fiction cool?!

Okay, one more ending-- you see, I can't stop.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.
Begins: "CLARE: It's hard being left behind."
Ends: "He is coming, and I am here."

I don't even need to parse that one, do I? See how simple it is? Now all you have to do is write the 80,000 words in between and you're golden.


  1. This is an interesting observation of the last line paired with the first line. It reminds me of something I read in Save The Cat. Snyder basically says that the final scene should be a mirror image of the opening scene, that the two should be like bookends--matching, but turned around. I can see how doing the same with the first and last lines would be very satisfying for the reader.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. I ordered Save the Cat. Pacing the room waiting for mailman....