Famous Last Words
By: Cassandra Robbins
You should always write with an ending in mind, even though it may not be the one you choose in the final draft. In the final draft phases, you can really focus on the language right down to the sentences themselves. You should treat the very last line of your piece as though it might also be your own last line. Nothing else comes after this. Your relationship with the reader should end here, and this is the very last thing you will ever say to them. So, what do you say? They all lived happily ever after? The End? Or if you want the watered-down version:
“And then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever.”
–Stephanie Meyer, Breaking Dawn
Okay, yeah, it’s pretty easy to take a stab at Twilight, I’ll admit, but really though, this one isn’t much better:
“All was well.”
–JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
Neither of these endings really suffice what a reader’s expectations are when it comes to the end of a journey. Twilight’s ending failed in part because of the abstractions bliss, perfect, and forever. Abstractions are holes that leave readers with questions.
There are plenty of endings that leave readers to question what is going on and what is happening/happening next. I’ll argue that the reason this has become a popular trend in today’s lit is to sell the next sequel, but for a moment, let’s look at the classics:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Did you enjoy that one? How about another:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Both of those endings sing with their language and with their rhythm. It lets the reader know that this is the unwind.
Or how about an abrupt ending?
“Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.”
–J.D. Salinger, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”
Or Sopranos style?
“’You can trust me,’ R.V. said, watching her hand. ‘I’m a man of my’”
–David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System
Even though these endings are quick, neither leave much room for the reader to ponder what happened next. Both rely heavily on the content of the story and so should your ending.
Don’t be afraid to break the rules. If you find the format too restricting, throw it out.
this way this way this way this way this way this way this
way out this
— Ronald Sukenick, Out
An ending has to be written for your story. No other ending will do. So finally, I’ll leave you with a few miscellaneous last lines that I enjoyed. I appreciate the reads over the semester, and I wish you all good luck with finding your ending.
“‘Excellently observed,’ answered Candide; ‘but we must cultivate our garden.’”
“A Last Note from Your Narrator: I am haunted by humans.”
— Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
“She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life.”
–Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
“As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.”
–William Shakespeare, The Tempest
“They were frantic, calling out to him, but they were dead, as dead as the ancient dead, and he was alive, he was needed at home, it was a no-brainer, no one could possibly blame him for this one, and making a low sound of despair in his throat he kicked off his loafers and threw his long ugly body out across the water.”
–George Saunders, The Falls
“In a place far away from anyone or anywhere, I drifted off for a moment.”
–Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle