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An Ending to Remember

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Today I edited a book we’re publishing in conjunction with Highlights magazine. It’s a hidden pictures book—the kind where there’s a line-drawing picture and you have to find all of the odd little items hidden in the drawing. I spent the entire day with a highlighter finding all of the socks, fish, bananas (on almost every one of the 26 pictures!), ice-cream cones, etc., hidden throughout pictures of kids outside playing ball, skateboarding, swimming . . .  On one spread, I even found a bird (it was the first thing I saw when I looked at the page) that wasn’t listed along the side as an item to find.  But then I got to one near the back. I found most of the items quickly, but then I was completely stymied. There were three items I couldn’t find for the life of me. After half an hour of looking at it from every angle possible, I finally gave up and moved on to the next page. But this sense of anxiety settled into my chest—you know that feeling you have when you know you’ve lost or forgotten something but can’t think of what it is.

And then I realized—that’s the same feeling I get when I get to the end of a book that doesn’t have a satisfying ending! The feeling that something is lost or missing or forgotten.

After lunch, I went back to that page. Within ninety seconds, I had found the three “missing” items. All it took was a little time away and fresh eyes. What relief—what satisfaction!

Just like a great ending to a book.

From everyone’s comments (thanks!), I think we’ve established that ending lines of books aren’t as familiar to us as opening lines. I think we’ve also come to the conclusion that the specific ending line isn’t nearly as important as the overall feeling of satisfaction in how the book ends. Has the plot come to an exciting and logical conclusion? Have the subplots been wrapped up with no threads left hanging, no questions left unanswered (unless, of course, the book is part of a series and it isn’t the last book)?

There are so many books I’ve read where I closed the book and hugged it to my heart and wished the feeling the ending gave me would go on and on and on. But, even if right at that very moment, you asked me what the last line was, I wouldn’t be able to quote it verbatim. But I would be able to tell you how the story ended and whether or not I liked it. 

We know that having a great opening line/paragraph is important to get editors to want to put us under contract/readers to buy our books. I would imagine most people reading this blog are like me when it comes to book shopping. We pick a book up off the shelf, examine the front cover image to try to get a sense of the story, then flip it over to read the back cover copy (we’ll talk about that later) to find out what the story’s about. Then we open the front cover. We read the opening lines with a critical eye. Can this author (known or unknown) write something that will intrigue me right from the start and get me to part with my hard-earned money?  Is this really a story I’ll like? Will I like this author’s voice/style/storytelling ability? Am I going to like the characters?

That’s an awful lot of pressure put on a first line of a story! Which is why we agonize over finding just the right hook, just the right words.

But how much time and effort should we put into crafting the “perfect” last line? We know that we need to spend a lot of time making sure our ending is good. But crafting a good last line is like having the last say in an argument or discussion. It’s the last impression you’ll leave your readers with. You want to end strong, but in keeping with the tone of the rest of your story. It’s your last chance to give your characters—and your readers—closure.

Here are the ending lines from my five completed manuscripts:

       She finally managed to get a deep enough breath to enable her to say clearly, “You are the best friend I have in the world. And I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life without you in it.” (What Matters Most)

       Stephen hugged her tightly and kissed her forehead. “I meant every word. Death will never separate us.”
       Hannah looked up at him, put her hands on either side of his face, and brought his head down so they were almost nose-to-nose. “Good. Because I’m not letting you get off that easily.” (The Best Laid Plans)

       Kevin covered her hand where it still clasped the pendant, then took hold of her left hand as well. “In the past, in the present, or in the future, only God can love you more than I do, and that love will remain true throughout eternity.” (Love Remains)

       He traced the curve of her jaw with his forefinger, kissed the bridge of her nose, and tucked her back into his arms. “Now that’s what I call a happy ending.” (Happy Endings Inc.)

       William now understood—fully comprehended—Collin’s decision to resign his commission and stay in England to be with Susan. William’s ship, his career, his reputation—none of it mattered any longer. For, if asked, he would walk away from his crew, forsake his duty, and even sacrifice his own honor to provide for and protect Julia.
       Love demanded nothing less. (Ransome’s Honor)

Have you figured out yet what genre I write? 🙂

Ransome’s Honor, the only one with the original first chapter I still like, is the only ending that I ever cried while writing—and you have to understand, I am NOT a sentimental person. I can sit through a Nicholas Sparks movie and not shed a single tear (am actually annoyed by those purposeful tear-jerkers anyway, so I don’t watch them if at all possible). But this is a RESONANCE* ending rather than a RESOLUTION* ending like the previous four—it’s emotional, not active. And it’s more in keeping with the genre of books it’s styled after: Regency romances, especially Jane Austen’s novels, which always ended with resonance after the resolution.

Post your favorite last lines from your completed stories/novels. Why do you like them? How did it make you feel to write that last line? Does it bring back the emotion to you or do you just look at it and think, I can do better than THAT?

Next time, we’ll get a little more in depth into the difference between RESONANCE* and RESOLUTION* in our endings.

*Kress, Nancy. Beginnings, Middles & Ends. Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books. 1993.

8 Comments
  1. Tuesday, April 17, 2007 8:52 pm

    Okay, I can’t wait to read more about Resonance and Resolution. I’m counting on you to help me with the (currently) lame ending of Drums. 🙂

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  2. Austin Field permalink
    Tuesday, April 17, 2007 9:18 pm

    Wow …I’m not sure what exactly resonance means. But I’m pretty sure that your Ransomes Honor must be pretty darn good. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t read romances.

    OK, here’s the last line of the first draft of my action/adventure novel:

    Coyle flinched at the last report of the rifles, his eyes affixed forward. He couldn’t look at the flag draped coffin. But he could breathe again. Merritt would spend the rest of his life in prison.
    He, and Josh, finally had peace.

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  3. Wednesday, April 18, 2007 8:37 am

    I after so much thinking on First and Last sentences went and made a post on them too 🙂 I pulled out my five favorite books and looked at the first and last sentences. You’ll see I came to the same conclusion, it’s not about the last line and how memorable it is, but about the overall feeling–is it satisfying.

    My current ending:
    Abby paused at the door. Elizabeth was rubbing her temples. “Are you okay?”
    Elizabeth looked up. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I’m still trying to take it all in. Thank goodness we’re flying home. A least this can’t happen to us again on a plane.” She paused. “Can it?”
    Abby grinned. “Don’t ask me.” She ducked out the door laughing at Elizabeth’s groan.

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  4. Wednesday, April 18, 2007 8:42 am

    …to continue since it posted without me wanting to post!

    It’s middle grade adventure/mystery–my stories tend to end on a playful/happy note. In this cause Abby (Josh, Rachael and Elizabeth) have time traveled. They make it back to the present. Elizabeth (who’s 17, she was traveling with them as a chaperon) still doesn’t quite believe all this happened. She wants to make sure the time traveling won’t happen again…she asks Abby to verify that it won’t, but Abby won’t tell her ‘no’, because of course it will happen again (in book 3) Abby just don’t know where or when or how it will happen.

    Not sure if all that made sense 🙂 But that’s my current ending.

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  5. Wednesday, April 18, 2007 11:24 am

    Endings are important. On a few occasions, stories that I’ve enjoyed have fallen flat at the end, due to the last line or paragraph. Almost as though the author just stopped writing. Disappointing. But something to keep in mind because this is rarely talked about.

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  6. Wednesday, April 18, 2007 2:24 pm

    I so wish I could share a fabulous last line from one of my books. Sadly, I stink at last lines. Looking forward to your help!

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