"Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book."—Mickey Spillane (from Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell).
|Photo credit: lynn.gardner on Flickr|
I think what Mr. Spillane said about the first and last chapter of a book applies to the first and last sentence—while the first sentence is largely responsible for hooking the reader, the last sentence must resonate with your readers, or else you risk losing them to an unsatisfying ending. That's not to say that a terrible ending can be completely saved by a stellar last sentence, but the final sentence is like the final note in a composition—it should echo and leave the reader with a certain tone. If done correctly, the final sentence provides closure and often mirrors the beginning, creating a full circle.
But of course we can't talk about final sentences without examples, so I've provided some sentences that I thought were especially effective. The sentence(s) in brackets are the ones that come before the final sentence that I included to provide a little context:
"[I am no longer Tris, the selfless, or Tris, the brave.] I suppose that now, I must become more than either." –Divergent by Veronica Roth
"[It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.] But there are much worse games to play." –Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
"[The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years.] All was well." –Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. RowlingWhat I love about these examples is the way they echo overarching themes that repeated themselves throughout the book or series. For those who haven't read it, much of Divergent was about Tris (the protagonist) trying to choose her identity between two factions: the Abnegation girl her family raised her as, which values selflessness, versus the Dauntless girl she had chosen to be, which valued courage. Her acknowledgment that she must become more than either both confirms one of the great revelations of the novel (without spoiling anything—that Tris is different from most) and points to the future books where we know she will have to be strong to survive.
In two of the three examples I purposely included the final sentence of a series because they so effectively wrapped up not just their respective novels, but the series.
In the case of Mockingjay we all know what games Katniss is referring to when she says, "there are much worse games to play" and it leaves the reader nodding in agreement while thinking back to the events of all three books.
In the Harry Potter example, the throbbing of Harry's scar was a foreboding sign throughout the series that became more and more frequent throughout the course of seven books as Voldemort became more powerful. To say that Harry's scar hadn't hurt him for nineteen years really confirms the final sentence that all is (finally) well.
So in short, a great final sentence does two of three things:
- Reflects elements from the novel/series.
- Wraps up both the book and series OR wraps up the book while leading into the sequel.
Now it's your turn: What else do you think a final sentence should do? What are your favorite final sentences and what made them so memorable?