I recently finished a massive revision on my cozy mystery. It took me almost a year from when I started, every morning waking up and thinking about my protagonist and what problems she’d be facing that day. Needless to say, when I typed those sweet sweet words, The End, I felt like this:
And yet, when I reached the last line, I hesitated.
Did I like it as it was? Or was there a better way to end it? I’d worked so long and hard on this project that it was tempting to just finish it without giving that last scene the attention it deserved.
Because here’s the thing: there’s so much emphasis on opening lines–they must engage the reader, introduce the tone of the story, blah blah blah (I posted about opening lines here)–but closing lines are just as important!
The last line of a novel is the final note of your story, the feeling a reader will be left with. It should cause reflection, maybe call back to a prevalent theme, or give a satisfied sense of closure.
As a reader, a good opening line may convince me to get to the closing line, but a solid closing line makes me interested in reading another book by that author. Not a small thing!
Here are some of my favorite last lines:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.
The last couple sentences to Harry’s 7-book adventure are so simple, and yet so perfect. First, there’s the reminder of Harry’s scar, a centerpiece to his journey, and then there’s the Happily Ever After in a way that concludes Harry’s story with finality (although we all desperately wish there was another chapter of Harry’s story!).
1984 by George Orwell: He loved Big Brother.
*Shiver* The final line of this book is so horrific, the culmination of Winston’s story. He rebelled against Big Brother, thought he would never give in, but Big Brother always wins.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.
Rothfuss’ last line is beautiful, but also a flashback to the beginning of Kvothe’s chronicle, a wonderful bookend that made me desperate to get my paws on Book 2!
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Quick, make a wish. Take a (second or third or fourth) chance. Remake the world.
This was such a lyrical novel about family, love, and art. The final lines are sweet, communicating one final thought, or rather hope, for the reader: that they, too, might be able to go out and remake the world. I just love that word remake, for some reason infinitely more powerful than change.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie: But I wish Hercule Poirot had never retired from work and come here to grow vegetable morrows.
One of the best, most unpredictable, twist endings of any mystery ever. Agatha Christie broke all the rules and it comes to a head in this ending line: humorous, reflective, and the only logical way the narrator could close the story.
Readers, what are some of your favorite closing lines? Why do you think they resonated with you? Writers, do you struggle like I do with crafting that last line?
What I’m reading: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What I’m listening to: I’m In Love With My Life — PHASES