Thursday, July 26, 2007


I brood a lot about the last line of a story. I would love to write profound, inspirational end lines that transport my readers to some distant, post-reading Nirvana where they feel as if book slaves have fed them grapes, rubbed their feet and painted their toenails. I know I don't. My enders tend to be very short and pithy, usually made up of character dialogue or thoughts:

I'd just make more tea.

"Send my regrets."

That is all that matters now.

"Think about it, dimwit."

"Here we go again."

I'm not sure why I'm so skimpy with my last lines. I hate ending a story (obviously, or everything I write wouldn't grow nine heads and turn into a series on me) and I'm lousy at making farewell speeches. I go with what feels right for the scene and the story, which is all I think you can do when you're not particularly ender-gifted.

Other writers come up with some great last lines. Here are some that have resonated with me, turned me vivid green or kept me thinking long after I finished their books:

Altashheth. -- Anne Rice ended Servant of the Bones with this ancient Hebrew word, which translates to "do not destroy." This one is my all-time favorite ending line.

As for ghosts, they filled the streets. -- As they do the pages of Stalin's Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith's latest Arkady Renko novel. Pretty much perfection.

"Because you need me," he said, and Jennifer opened the door. -- Linda Howard sent another of her ender shockwaves through the romance community with this final line from Open Season. And she left us all to imagine what happens next. And I still mutter bitch under my breath every time I read it, too.

Destiny has given me something even better -- a lover as faithful as honor, in this life and in whatever may follow. -- I (heart) the ender from Talyn by Holly Lisle because it's elegant, true to the character and a lovely wrap-up of the entire story.

He seemed to me to have lived before his time and to have died before he was sufficiently understood." -- Wendy Moore ends her first book, The Knife Man, with that quotation from William Clift, the young apprentice/assistant of eighteenth century Scottish surgeon John Hunter. Hunter, the subject of the book, was a genius and a lunatic, and this odd homage ender seemed almost like an authorial apology.

How do you writers out there handle your final lines? What are some of your favorite enders?


  1. Anonymous1:53 AM

    I tend to grow a new series every time i turn around, too.

    And because of that... *G* I tend to end with something that will sort of act as a segue to the next.

    I think I've pissed people off doing that...

  2. That's a tough question. I've been writing for about a year, and am never happy with my last lines. AND, it seems that extra effort on it seldom leaves a better result. One day maybe.

  3. I try to give resolution and a twist.

    The end line of "An Ungodly Child" (released next April):

    Only now, with Louis beside her, could Ada shed tears for the baby she had lost: Harold’s twin sister.

  4. I'm usually solid at it; nothing so enchanting as your examples, nor as pithy.

    But, Oracle ends thus: And wasn't that the peace she sought?

    The rest are mundane. Appropriate, but... sigh mundane...

    As for other people's, do you have any idea how many books I've got? Okay, that would be a 'no'. This late in the evening I can't think of any endings...

  5. I struggle with endings. And about 95% of the time I let the book go wishing I'd been able to come up with something better.

    I think my favorite is from Dangerous Games. It ends with Hal, the sentient computer:
    “And they lived happily ever after,” he mused. A very satisfactory resolution.

  6. Taming Eliza Jane by Shannon Stacey

    “Giddy up, Doc.”

    (once you've read the book, you understand why it's a laugh out loud funny ender)

    Actually, all of her books have great enders. I know it's something that she thinks is important and she does a great job of it!

  7. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

    This last sentence from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby haunts me as much today as when I first read it over 40 years ago.

  8. Endings are a tough one for me. I try, but I don't know if I succeed.

    I'll have to go home to the bookshelf before I can give my favorite ending lines.

  9. I love the father's dying word "tishel" at the end of Steinbeck's East of Eden--the power to choose. I cried the first time I read it, in high school, and then had to explain the whole concept thing to my parents. But they really didn't get it. Nevermind.

    Your line about making more tea is how my English husband solves every problem...

  10. Anonymous9:44 AM

    "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

    How can you top the last line of "The Great Gatsby?"

    It's one of my favorites, for sure.

  11. I like to wrap things up at the end of my books. I try not to have unanswered questions or loose ends - other than ones which the reader could easily figure out for themselves. My best ending so far, I think, is for my second book: "Satisfied its world was returning to normal, the coyote turned and loped away."

    Usually the only book endings I remember are the ones that tick me off, and then it's no so much the wording but the feeling I'm left with afterwards.

  12. Anonymous10:23 AM

    I try to make my ending line satisfying. One that, whether happy or sad, allows the reader to sigh and close the book with a smile.

    Two of my favorites come from Tim Powers' work.

    The Drawing of the Dark:
    "From the southeast the Turkish cannons began firing, but the wind blew most of the sound away, and to M-- it sounded like nothing but plodding footsteps receding away in the distance."

    And the other is from The Anubis Gates:

    "And as he rowed on, toward whatever might prove to be the true destiny of the man who'd been [names removed to prevent spoiling] and was not any of them any longer, he regaled the river birds with every Beatles song he could remember...except Yesterday."

  13. I think my current WIP ends with:

    And someday, my son will wreak my revenge for me.

    I think. I'm a pantzer after all.

  14. The ending that leaps to mind is: Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus. The final line of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Brilliant ending.

    As for me, I try to end my stories with something that encapsulates and punctuates the story.

  15. My last lines are usually satisfactory, but won't win any awards, lol.

    My favorites seem to lie with the classics, and leave me with a chill, not a sigh...

    "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."~~Poe

    "It is the beating of his hideous heart!"~~Poe

    "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"~~Yeats

  16. Anonymous1:46 PM

    I'm a newbie - nothing published yet, but I'm working on it. It doesn't always work out this way for me, but I like my endings to bring the story full circle. That's probably why my all-time favorite story ender is the last line of Stephen King's The Dark Tower - "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed." It's also the first line of The Gunslinger, and as a first line, I think it's even more brilliant. Not only does it set up the protagonist and the antagonist, it has conflict and action, all in one little sentence.

    Btw, I'm might be having a little trouble with Blogger, so if this message comes up a couple of times, I apologize.

  17. My favorite ender comes from So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, the fourth in the Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy trilogy. "There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind."

  18. Endings are hard, and it's usually easier for me to think of ones I don't like than ones I do. When it comes down to it, if I'm going to be unsatisfied with any single aspect of my writing, you can bet that it will be the final line.

  19. My last line in a short story I have coming out is:

    "Actions were better than words, and his tongue said everything she was feeling. Like she had finally come home."

    Steamy, huh?

  20. I think unfortunately many writers pay far more attention to openings than to endings. That's understandable, but it can be disappointing to reach a stop rather than a satisfactory end. I always like it when the end ties into the beginning in some way. Wish I could always achieve that myself.

    I was going to quote the last line from "Animal Farm", but I can't find my copy. Bah!

  21. Usually, mine end in dialogue of some sort. And unfortunately, it's usually a smart-ass quip. *sigh* I can't help myself.

    But my favorite ending ever is actually from a poem - The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.

    We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
    By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
    Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

  22. Anonymous6:48 AM

    I always loved the ending to Saki's (HH Munro) short story "The Open Window"

    "Romance at short notice was her specialty"


  23. Funny this topic should come up because I just read a book a really really liked and then felt that the last page sort of fizzled. I liked the dialogue, but I would have rearranged a bit myself.

    My own endings tend to be dialogue and while I think they do the job and tie things up, since none of the last lines leap to mind I guess I won't win any awards either...

  24. In all but one book (Sympathy for the Devil) I've had no idea how the thing would end until I wrote the ending. This isn't just the last line, either. This is the last scene or group of scenes that will wrap up the final big action, tie up lose ends, bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion, and land on that desperately critical last line.

    By the time I hit the ending, I've been immersed in the book for a while, I've wished all the characters dead at least once, I've struggled through the middle, and the story has become meaningful to me on a lot of different levels. I'm generally on a tight deadline, so I've been writing hard.

    Little things will start falling into place, there will be an 'Aha!' moment where I discover how all the stuff from before fits, and when that hits, I get sucked into the story and all spelling, grammar, punctuation, and awareness of overuse of words dies to the scene that starts playing out in my head.

    I write like one possessed, get the last scene or group of scenes all in one fell swoop, come careening into the finale, and die on the last line. It hangs there. It taunts me. I write, rewrite, re-rewrite. I pace. I swear. And at some point, I'll hit a second 'Aha!' moment, and get the last five, or seven, or ten words.

    But (again excepting SFTD) it's never easy. It always tortures me, just because it can.

  25. I've only managed to write one ending line so far, and I went for the sentimental. If I ever do rewrite that story, though, I think I'll keep it.

    My all-time favorite ending was the snatch of poetry at the end of The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine; at 28 lines, I don't know if it counts as a "last line," but it stuck in my memory for a long, long time. The last bit especially:

    Step follows step,
    Hope follows courage,
    Set your face toward danger,
    Set your heart on victory--
    Victory for Bamarre!

  26. Anonymous6:46 PM

    Coming in late, but my favorite ending line of all time is from a poem as well - Invictus, by William Ernest Henley.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the Master of my Fate.
    I am the Captain of my soul.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.