Writers talk much and write much (including me) about the difficulty of finding that perfect first line. Sometimes I want to create entire books because a great first line popped into my head. Tougher, can be that last line. Tougher because it’s culminating an entire world.
The last line is a writer’s goodbye to her characters and her readers. It must wrap up all a writer’s thoughts, without staying too long at the party, and it must leave the reader with a lingering taste of the characters—enough to let the reader feel that the men, women, and children with whom they’ve just spent hours, will continue on their journey.
And we want to believe that. When we love a book, we need to think that we may someday meet the characters again.
Last lines should have impact—but not shout. Are any of these below familiarto you? Can you guess which book they came from? And then there’s another question, do these lines ring to the first line of the book?
Below, lines from some of my favorite books. See which last lines seem to go with which first lines, and which you can identify. (All answers at end)
1) “Goodbye, Francie,” she whispered. She closed the window.
2) No matter how often or how vociferously writers are attacked, no matter how many hearts are broken in pursuit of publication or how many authors discourages in their lonely work, there will always be a brilliant conspiracy between author and reader.
3) The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw. Only the oleanders thrived, their delicate poisonous blooms, their dagger green leaves.
4) “The woman,” Dillard answered. “The woman. They say he missed that whore.”
5) But that is the beginning of a new story—the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.
6) For a second I thought I was somewhere familiar and she was a girl I already knew. I began to lift my hand, but stopped, remembering where I was and what I had already found. Then the bus lurched forward, and the face was gone with it, just a blur of yellow and black in motion.
1 No matter where I went, my compass pointed west. I always knew what time it was in California.
2) A long time ago I disappeared. One day I was here, the next I was gone.
3) I never dreamed of becoming an editor.
4) When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake—not a very big one. It has probably been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs.
5) Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912.
6) On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K Bridge.
1&5) A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith
2&3) THE FOREST FOR THE TREES by Betsy Lerner
3& 1) WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch
4&4) LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurty
5&6) CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky
3&2) CAUCASIA by Danzy Senna
And then, since this is my post, I looked at my own last and first, to see how they did.
Last Line in THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS:
“The rest is all a surprise,” I said. “I told Aunt Cilla we wanted everything of Mama’s, that I was taking her things home. For you and for me. I think we’re ready and I think it’s time.
I wasn’t surprised when Mama asked me to save her life. By my first week in kindergarten, I knew she was no macaroni-necklace-wearing kind of mother. Essentially, Mama regarded me as a miniature hand servant.
The funny thing about looking back, to one’s own work, is you always want to make it better—even after it’s published.
Looking back at some favorites, I see the connective tissue in all of them (even my own) and I wonder how many authors did this consciously, and how many worked this circle in a sub-conscious manner—like myself.
Writing so often feels like the most delicate balance of hard work and catching the alchemy.
Writing is waving the wand.
Reading is catching the magic.
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