** SPOILER ALERT**
I finished Terry Pratchett’s Dodger the other night. It wasn’t the best ending. It should have finished quite a few pages before. This resulted in the end being farcical. Despite that, the last few lines still had a bit of punch to them, which shows what a good writer Pratchett is.
This is proof that the lead up to the final line of a novel is just as important as the first and last line. If the book trails at the end the last line will lose the spark that it may have had otherwise.
In fact, it actually tells us that every part of the novel is important. The first line needs to hook the reader and the last line needs to give closure, satisfaction or a lasting memory (or all three) but every word between those two lines needs to make the reader want to go on. There’s no point in making that snappy, magical last line if no one wants to get there.
A few days ago I shared with you my favourite first lines as I sought to find the right first line for my current work in progress. I’m happy to say that my novel, Matter Of Time (working title), now has a new first line. And, get this, it was there all this time! It didn’t need rewriting, it just needed finding.
So following on from my previous post about endings, here are my favourite last lines.
Let’s start with my all time favourite book, The Body by Stephen King;
‘The trestle upstream is gone now, but the river is still around. So am I.’
A poignant last line that sums up the theme of the novel; the loss of time and friendships.
‘Then she made cheese...
...in the diary, on the farm, and the fields unrolling, and becoming the downlands sleeping under the hot midsummer sun, where the flocks of sheep, moving slowly, drift over the short turf like clouds on a green sky, and here and there sheepdogs speed over the grass like shooting stars. For ever and ever, wold without end.’
- Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
A beautiful, poetic ending. This book ends as it starts – looking at the bigger picture. But I think the book would have had just as satisfying an ending with simply ‘Then she made cheese.’
‘They were happy, and free, and the endless sky awaited them.
It was enough.’
– Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
‘Nothing else remains. I shall never see him again.
Except, perhaps, if I’m human enough. Except, perhaps, if there’s world enough and time.’
– I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan
I’ve never been entirely sure about this ending but I do like the last lines. It echoes the messages in the book and gives the reader a nice little spark.
‘That same question came into his head, over and over, and he still had no answer.
Why do I do this?
– The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Again this book ends pretty much how it started and, in a book jam packed with characters, it ends on one of the best ones.
‘Yes, thought Montag, that’s the one I’ll save for noon. For noon...
When we reach the city.’
– Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
This wasn’t in my favourite first liners but the ending has got a lovely gentleness to it while at the same time promising something more, allowing the reader to continue the story for themselves if they wish.
‘With a firm grip, the two men clasp hands, and in that single gesture a new order begins to take shape.’
– The Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga.
Now, this might just be me. I read this before season 3 of The Walking Dead started and this ending had me salivating, waiting for that first episode where I would meet the Governor played by David Morrissey. This ending is good because it’s a conclusion while leaving the way open for the next story. It also delivers on its promise. This book is about the Governor coming to power, and in that hand shake, the Governor is born.
What endings do you like?