Last Lines

Facebook is incomprehensible

Notes, Appendix, Footnotes, Glossary & Hyperlinks

Not open for further replies.

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
It's drummed into writers, the importance of having a strong opening to their story. Whole books have been written emphasising how crucial the first few lines, paragraphs and pages are, to grab the attention of readers.

But, what of the closing lines, the end of a story, where an author makes a statement of some kind, even if it's through the thoughts of their protagonist? I reckon that, as quotes remembered by readers, and which go on to enter the language, last lines carry more weight than opening statements. How many people who say "Tomorrow is another day," know the source of the phrase?

Looking at famous books, these endings are variously doom-laden and optimistic:

* From The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson:

"She opened the door wide and let him into her life again."

* From Oh What a Paradise It Seems by John Cheever:

But that is another tale, and as I said in the beginning, this is just a story meant to be read in bed in an old house on a rainy night.”

* From Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell:

Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

* From Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling:

"The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well."

* From Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:

"He was soon borne away 
by the waves and lost in darkness and distance."

* From The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger:

"It's funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

* From Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell:

He loved Big Brother.”

* From The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad:

The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

* From Animal Farm, George Orwell:

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

I think that there's a difference between the last lines of a standalone novel and a story that's part of a series. With a one-off, an author can close the proceedings with a message that encapsulates the themes of the tale they've told in a take that way! An optimistic writer who's embarking on creating a series, may well allude to the frame of mind of their protagonist, setting them up for more adventures.

In every end, there's a beginning.

In my own Cornish Detective series, I always close with my protagonist Neil Kettle alone and contemplating life—in a way that I hope encourages readers to want to find out what happens to him next.

* Book 1: Who Kills A Nudist?: "Neil gazed at the departing jet in the distance, its exhaust condensing in the atmosphere. She'd slipped the reminder into his pocket when she pecked him a kiss. Write her? Why not?

He was starting to believe in happy endings."

* Book 2: The Perfect Murderer: "As the Chinese saying went, 'Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think.' It was time for him to be where he was again, to inhabit himself once more—he'd been missing his own life."

* Book 3: An Elegant Murder: "In a few minutes, Neil was letting himself into the front door, walking through his half-finished home to go and feed a solitary cat who would ignore him. What else did a man need?

He couldn't be happier."

* Book 4: Sin Killers: "He'd be OK. The sentimentality of the season was getting to him. At a time when we were expected to be loving and loved in return, he felt the lack. Criminals didn't care about his sorrow, and there were new cases to run, but they'd keep for tomorrow.

Lone as a mountain lion, he went off through the cold, bulleting rain back to his moorland lair."

The ending of my WIP, The Dead Need Nobody, will see my detective protagonist at death's door, having been stabbed by the murderer he was arresting, momentarily distracted by happy thoughts of the woman he's falling in love with, after seven years of widowhood. I don't know what I'll write as last lines, but it will be something about love and death.

I think it's important to come up with a stylish ending to a story, that's taken you ages to write, rather than have it come to an abrupt stop!

Do you have any favourite famous last lines from literature?

What about your own?

The last line has to be either lyrical, evanescent, a zooming out of the lens, as with the ending of 'Wuthering Heights'.


"I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

Just beautiful.

Or it can be short but it needs to be a stonker.

"He is coming, and I am here."

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

100 Best Closing Lines
You know, I always find a good ending much more important than a good beginning. It might be counter-intuitive but, while I appreciate a good first line, I'm quite willing to read over a mediocre one, because at that point I am just curious to see where the book will take me.

But a good ending is crucial to the overall reading experience. It delivers the final emotional impact and can stay with me for days. I actually remember more last lines than first lines. A good opening makes me go "Ok, I'm with ya", but a good last line, after spending 300+ pages with characters I love and loathe, can move me to tears.

Just off the top of my head:
"You light as a feather to me." - Random Family, Adrian LeBlanc
"This is England. You can do anything you like." - Brick Lane, Monica Ali
"He never went to Ludlow again." - Pet Sematary, Steven King
Me too. @AgentPete once told me off about looking at the back pages before I buy. Cheating! But yes I do. First line, last line especially, lets me sniff the quality and timbre, the depth and gravitas, and then I buy to experience the how of it. I'm not going on board that Ark if there's no tasty fodder and I'm beyond needing surprises.

Ark animals.PNG
I work in a bookshop sometimes over Christmas to help out my friend, who is the owner. We had one customer who came in last year. She picked out a couple of books and then asked me about the ending. I had only read one of them and told her so. She then sat down and read the last three pages of each book, then picked her favourite and bought it.

I made a remark about that while she was paying, because it struck me as unusual. She said: "I only read books with really good endings. Otherwise I'm disappointed."

She really didn't care about spoilers, she was in it for the emotional pay-off.
The earliest great last line is in the Illiad. "Such was the funeral of Hector, tamer of horses." The great Trojan warrior Hector dies doing battle with Achilles. The contrast between his ignominious demise and the epithet "tamer of horses" was powerful for me when I first read it and continues to be so.
My daughter hates my endings--she thinks I leave them too open, but for me, I like an ending that is just a beginning for the reader to imagine. A Face Like Glass had a wonderful ending like that, with the MC leading a whole bunch of people out of the underground city that had essentially enslaved them and into the aboveground world to an unknown (but presumably better) fate. My last book ended with: "I smiled, straightened my shoulders and began."
First lines excite and last lines satisfy.

The last and first line of chapters are like connective tissue.

And that’s all I have to say bout that except I really like the quote Katie posted.
My favourite last sentence is from The Lady with the Pet Dog by Anton Chekov. It is quite long, though, and runs over a couple of lines:

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.

In other words, the end of the story may only the start of another, perhaps bigger, one. Chekov leaves it to us to decide for how things will turn out for the two lovers now they are finally together. My own guess has always erred towards 'not so well' but perhaps others are more optimistic.
Not open for further replies.

Facebook is incomprehensible

Notes, Appendix, Footnotes, Glossary & Hyperlinks