The Elusive Last Line

Writing the perfect last line of a novel…or an essay…or a eulogy…probably even an advertising jingle…is a near impossible task. I’ve heard that some writers start their project with the last sentence in mind. I’d say that those people extremely blessed – and a bit odd, perhaps. The rest of us come to the end of our manuscript and stare at the blank screen, waiting for inspiration to strike.

You see, I love introductions and inciting incidents – there’s so much energy and excitement on the page when I have an entire project in front of me. Rising action is good too because that’s when stories come alive. Climaxes are tough, but I spend so much time rehearsing those scenes in my head that putting them on paper is slightly easier. Even conclusions are okay. Wrapping up loose ends, subtly highlighting themes. But last lines? Those are the worst.

There’s so much riding on the final sentence. It’s got to be poignant and memorable. Maybe funny. Possibly heart wrenching. It should nod to the future while reminding your reader of the past. It has to be beautifully written but not like you’re trying too hard. To make matters worse, your final sentence needs to accomplish all of those tasks in an itty-bitty chunk of text (unless you’re trying to be the next Victor Hugo, I suppose).

Of course, looking to well-regarded texts for inspiration is a horrible idea. When I was writing the ending of my first *complete* manuscript, I googled “last sentences in literature” for some encouragement. Boy was that a mistake. I scrolled through famous last lines, which only overwhelmed me further:

“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.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm

 “The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Seriously, if you’re ever feeling inadequate, I highly suggest comparing yourself to F Scott Fitzgerald. That always manages to send me into a horrible spiral of self-doubt.

So what’s the solution? I don’t have one. I have never, ever been satisfied with the last sentence of my own work. Usually, I write up as much as I can, add “BRILLIANT LAST SENTENCE GOES HERE” to the end, and then wait until the last second to come up with something inadequate. So please, I’m begging you, send any and all advice my way.

And of course, here I am once again, staring at the computer as I attempt to finish this blog post. Do I go cliché? Do I go for a quick summary? Or perhaps I end on a joke? Nothing seems quite right, yet I have to finish somehow…INSERT CATCHY LAST LINE HERE!!!!!

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