4 Tactics to Create Your Novel's Perfect Last Line

4 Tactics to Your Perfect Last line #YA Some time ago, I wrote a post examining how YA fantasy/dystopian novels opened, you can find it here. Well, the other day, I watched the final instalment of the Mockingjay from the Hunger Games trilogy. Despite its brutality, there was one particular line right at the end of the film that piqued my interest. So I decided to flip that post on its head and look at YA endings.

Katniss climbed into bed with Peeta, gave him a hug and he leant in to say:

“You love me, real or not real?” and Katniss said, “Real.”

Time to admit a dirty secret I have been harbouring for a while now – yes, I’m ashamed! I haven’t read the Hunger Games. I know. I know. I’m a YA Fantasy/Dystopian writer, how could I NOT have read the Hunger Games…? It just sort of happened. Lets not talk about it. I’ll fix it…Soon.

Anyway, there we were in the cinema and I leant over to to Mrs. Black and did the unthinkable, whispered in the middle of the film. I said… That right there, that’s the last line of the book. She raised an eyebrow and asked me how I knew. I didn’t have the answer, so I shrugged, “I just did.”

But it got me thinking, how did I know? And what was it about that line that made it so obviously a last line?

After we left the cinema I frantically scanned the kindle app on my phone to see if I’d downloaded it and could check. I had, and low and behold, ignoring the epilogue, there was the last line of the book, exactly as I had predicted.

‘So after when he whispers, “you love me. Real or not real?” 

I tell him, “Real.”

Suzanne Collins – Mockingjay (Book 3)

So I scoured a bunch of other books to find their last lines and not only are there clear things I learnt, but there is also quite an obvious difference in the style and content between the last lines of first and last books in trilogies.

But first, the endings:

The TestingThe Hunger Games (Book 1 – Suzanne Collins) – Out of the corner of my eye, I see Peeta extend his hand. I look at him, unsure. “One more time? For the audience?” he says. His voice isn’t angry. It’s hollow, which is worse. Already the boy with the bread is slipping away from me.

I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for the cameras, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.

***

The Testing (Book 1 – Joelle Charbonneau) – I blink as the small room fills wth a voice that sounds like my own and listen as the voice speaks words I don’t want to believe.

***

AngelfallAngel fall (Book 1 – Susan Ee)- I never realised why a triumph it is to simply be alive. My sister is with us. Raffle is flying. Everything else is secondary. And for now, that is enough.

***

End of Days– (Book 3 – Susan Ee)- My whole world turns into Raffe sensations as our lips explore each other.

***

Matched (Book 1 – Ally Condie)- My words never last long. I have to destroy them before anyone sees them. But. I remember them all. For some reason, the act of writing them all down makes me remember. Each word I write brings me closer to finding the right ones. And when I see Ky again, which I know will happen, I will whisper the words I have written in his ear, against his lips. And they will change from ash and nothing into flesh and blood.

***

Divergent BookDivergent  (Book 1 – Veronica Roth)- Abnegation and Dauntless are both broke, their members scattered. We are like the factionless now. I do not know what life will be like, separated from a faction-it feels disengaged, like a leaf divided from the tree that gives it sustenance. We are creatures of loss; we have left everything behind. I have no home, no path, and no certainty. I am no longer Tris, the selfless, or Tris, the brave. I suppose that now, I must become more than either.

***

Allegiant (Book 3 – Veronica Roth)- Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.

But what can we learn from these last lines?

ONE – The difference between book 1 and book 3

The most obvious difference between first books and last books that in a series, is that the first book, although drawing its story to a conclusion, leaves something open.

For example, the Hunger Games says: “and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.”

The key word for me is dreading. It tells us not only that there is more to come, but it is foreshadowing a gloomy future – telling us that there will come a time when she will let go for the last time.

Again, in Divergent (the first book), Tris says:

“I suppose that now, I must become more than either.”

Similarly here Tris spent the previous paragraph rounding every storyline off, but the

TWO – YA Philosophy

There’s this thing in YA books, I don’t know how to describe it other than ‘YA Philosophy’. I think because of the emotional rollercoaster YA’s go through and the fact they are still learning about life, there is always a big emotional truth revelation in a YA novel. An “oh yeah?!” moment when they learn something they will never forget.

It’s a fundamental truth that most adults will likely just ‘get’ intuitively. But here’s the clincher, I think the reason so many adults still like YA novels is because we forget our inner child and the lessons we learnt. Sure, we know them deep down. But we become numb to life because of the monotony of the suburban nightmare and the daily grind. Which means when the protagonist says something philosophical and emotionally fundamental, we are propelled back to our youth and our own “Oh yeah” moments. A poignant reminder that life is still beautiful in its innocence.

In essence, this is the characters arc – their personal journey but in YA its typically much more emotional than in other genres.

Two basic examples from the Hunger Games:

“Destroying things is much easier than making them.”

“You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

***

In the final books, these revelations happen more frequently and more intensely, and Allegiant, the last in the Divergent series, the last line is precisely one of these YA Philosophy moments:

“But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.”

Two examples from divergent:

“Then I realize what it is. It’s him. Something about him makes me feel like I am about to fall. Or turn to liquid. Or burst into flames.” 

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” 

***

THREE – Endings are endings for a reason

Endings are endings – so although in lesson one I learnt that in book 1 specifically something is left open, that ‘thing’ is tiny. Because ultimately, the previous paragraphs or chapters depending on how an author has paced their novel, rounds off all the story lines in that book.

YA readers generally are impatient. I know I am, and I love to feel satisfied at the end of a book, which means no unfinished business.

It feels like this is a careful line to tread because a lot of YA books at the moment are trilogies. So you have to leave something open. Generally, although obviously ever author is different, these novels resolve the major conflict, or plot problem, and leave a hook for the next one (see point one).

Interestingly, when I went back and checked the first books, three of the five mentioned the male love interest in the last paragraph – that was the hook into the next book’s storyline. Two didn’t, (divergent and the testing) and both those were about the self growth and journey of the protagonist.

FOUR – Foreshadowing

I talked about foreshadowing recently in 6 Tricks to the Perfect Reveal. One of the things I mentioned was it is never too early to foreshadow. Including, before book two even starts. All of these books are foreshadowing, whether its the reuniting of lovers, a self sacrifice or a war that still needs to be fought. The last line is key to setting up the premise for the next novel.

***

Every genre is different, but what do you find is essential for a book ending?

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64 comments

    1. Ah ha. Was it a YA book? I guess I mostly focused on YA rather than all genres – so hard to look at everything in one tiny post. I LOVE a cracking last line, one that sticks with you forever.

  1. Well the perfect ending for me is not spelled out… I like to work it out for myself and come to my own conclusions.

    In the same way, I don’t like HEA endings, particularly after all the trials and tribulations of a good story. Its just not realistic. The sugar and spice ending of the Harry Potter novels, for example, when we all know that after major trauma like that, it would takes years of rebuilding and therapy to establish anything vaguely resembling normality. The ending has to be believable.

    The last Hunger Games book has an epilogue, where the actual last line is ‘But there are much worse games to play.’ It’s a great line for that particular series to end on.

    1. Yeh – I think thats a good point Ali – Found more in Adult fiction than YA though would be my guess as in YA they tend to spell it out a bit more.

      I am not a fan of HEA either actually.

      Yes I saw the epilogue – its the same last last line in the film. But the reason I went searching for the last line of the book is because like prologues – I’m not certain everyone always reads epilogues – although I suspect its more likely they are read than prologues. Also and I wish I can remember where i read it but the last line of the book is different to the last line of the epilogue. This article went into all the intricacies of the differences and why the last line of the book was essential. But I can’t remember anything that the article said or where i got it! lol. Fail.

      1. No one readers epilogue and prologues??? Really? Shame on them. I love them. A good Prologue really sets up the story, and the epilogue seals it. Why avoid them? Very strange.

  2. I always like the foreboding or foreshadowing final piece of dialogue, but I’ve ended a lot of my books with a villain scene. One of the few that doesn’t ends with one hero screaming at another who is rushing off on his own after a last minute disaster. I guess it’s ending on an echoing emotion of some kind that lingers. Since I haven’t written the last book of my series, I don’t know how that would differ. Definitely somewhere in #3 with a sense of finality. Probably use a final line of dialogue for that too.

    1. Yeah me too Charles. Oh really? So the villains aren’t defeated at the end of the books? Thats well interesting.

      I love dialogue so like you, mine may well use dialogue – actually the one I finished drafting in the summer ended on a line of dialogue.

      1. It’s a series, so most times the big villains are either use henchmen or escape. The main is kind of trapped too, so the heroes haven’t even faced him yet.

        It is hard to figure out a spoken line that fits the ending. Has to sound like something that nobody will respond to. That or the preceding conversation isn’t that interesting.

      1. Interesting. I thought, “Huh. This could end up one of three ways. She got me.” It was none of them. 😀

        Absolutely love this post. You know I adore first lines but you may have just set me on another obsessive path… 😉

  3. I think it depends if the book is stand alone or part of a series.. a romance, thriller, fantasy etc. If a series.. I like some closure but with the possibility of things to come.. If stand alone I do like to feel that my assumptions along the way were pretty much on the money.. The one thing I do not like for sure is a book that begins.. George was dead… now spend 350 pages finding out why.. Certain stories need a happy ever after.. I usually get a sense of where a book is going by mid way and I enjoy being surprised. Thanks Sacha.. great post.

    1. Agreed Sally – If its a series i am much the same as you – in need of THIS books plot lines closing but with a teaser for the next one.

      I have to say Sally, i completely agree. I would get very annoyed about a book that did that, as i did with one the other way round when the main character hot killed off in last book. I just think its mean to the reader :p

  4. Interesting post, Sacha. I don’t read YA, but my grandsons have read all of the above, I believe. I have read a few books in a series in other genres, but have yet to read a whole series..In a stand alone book, I want closure at the end. If I’m reading a series, there has to be something to lead into the next book.

    1. Thanks Michelle, I wonder what they would have made of the last lines. Agree about the lead in, I need something connecting them I guess and I would like to see that filter through the entire book including the last line/paragraph/chapter.

  5. Hi Sacha,

    Some of those endings certainly stand out…
    Your post led me to a further research, which was what exactly YA is…
    I knew it was a fiction genre… Although, I really didn’t know which were the characteristics which specifically defined YA.

    Hence, I found this…

    “These characteristics encompass: “multi-themed story, tension versus shock effect, memorable characters, accurate facts and details, memorable voice, authentic dialogue, effective/clear writing style, sense of humor, widespread appeal, intriguing openings and memorable closings” -(Cole, Pam B. Young Adult Literature: In the 21st Century. New York: McGraw Hill, 2009. 61–65. Source Wikipedia.)-.

    I can see then why you make reference to ‘YA Philosophy’, as a sort of emotional rollercoaster which targets a big emotional truth-revelation…

    Open endings are the best ones, I think… but you are right when you point out that what is left unsaid as something hypothetical is tiny, as the whole book-plot lead to that ending lines…
    It might sound a little bit deterministic if we think it that way… but frankly I think that most if not all pansters are plotters at least in a certain moment of the creative writing process…

    As a matter of fact, we´ll never know how those endings above showed up… maybe they were the first seminal concept the author initially had… Probably not just the end… but maybe the second middle of the book… I think it could make sense, too.

    Great post. All my best wishes to you. Aquileana🎄

    1. Hey Aquileana, thank you for such a lovely comment. Your research is right – although more broadly speaking, YA just means Young Adult – i.e. 12- 18. At the moment there seems to be a tearing in half of this genre – young YA and older YA – the olders, 15/16 plus up to about 24 is now classed at NA or New Adult. This is probably where the bulk of my writing sits.

      I think its interesting to consider where these endings come from – I suspect a little of both of what you said. i.e. for me, I have a general notion of what the ending might be when I start a novel, and sometimes that notion stays the same, and sometimes it changes completely and unexpectedly without me consciously doing it.

      Thank you again for such a thoughtful comment, I hope you are having a wonderful break.

  6. I don’t do a lot of reading but, like movies, I like endings to be left open and to give the reader/viewer a chance to make up their own mind. I agree it’s essential that plots, etc, are all tied up but ,like a certain TV Series that has just finished, endings where there is nothing to look forward to always bring everything crushing down for me. Many people reminder the ending more than anything else and that’s not just because it’s the last thing they read or saw. If an ending brings a smile to the readers face then I think the author has succeeded.

  7. I don’t think there’s a formula, or a way of learning how to do it, you just have to try loads of alternatives over and over again until you get it right. In ‘You Wish’ I ended on a plot twist, which was fun – it made the whole book mean something completely different.

    Generally, I think I want ‘closure’ when I read – so I have to resist the temptation, when writing, to leave it open! There should be proper closure even if it’s part of a trilogy. Not a HEA – that’s something else entirely!! (I don’t like them!)

    I was rather proud of my ending for ‘Kings and Queens’, a contemporary family saga based on the story of Henry VIII, in which Will (the narrator) drinks to the late Harry’s son Jasper, the new head of the company:

    The ghosts of the past mingled together with Christmas present, and I could hear Harry’s and his father’s voices echoing across the years; they were as loud as those at my side. When I looked at Isabella, Erin and Jasper I could almost feel reverberations from the days yet to come, too; and the voices whispered to me down the halls of time from every direction, until they all seemed as one.

    I wanted it to show the circle of time, I suppose! Probably doesn’t mean much if you haven’t read the book, though, ha ha!!!

    1. Hi Terry,

      I agree about trying lots of things – and each book will require something different. I guess this was looking more at YA than anything – and to be fair – at a very narrow genre within YA. But I love the sound of your ending that flipped the book on its head. That is magic. Lovely ending and it certainly does give the circle of time 😀 your books are on my TBR pile. 😀

    1. Ah barb don’t worry – this is aimed at YA writers, besides even if you are a YA writer, rules are made for breaking, and I’m certain that this list isn’t an exhaustive one 😊💖

  8. Very interesting…there are 2 sorts of lastline, as you say..the ‘and he lay there dead’ sort ie. No More Books. And the ‘and he gotup and wondered off into the sunset’ ones. ie More Books. As a writer, I’m probably unusual in that I always write the first and last paragraphs BEFORE the rest of the text. Actually, I can’t write the book UNTIL I have the last line. And yes, a good last line should make you sit back and go ‘aaah! and then turn to the beginning to re-read the whole thing again!

  9. I have GOT to stop reading these first/last line posts of yours. (OR read them before I actually write.) Because I’ve 100% blown all your tips with my Null City series. Well, since I’m writing the last book now, I guess there’s still a tiny bit of time to fix it. Or not…

    1. LOL – well, like I ALWAYS say – rules are for breaking, and seriously – they are. There would never be any new genres or styles of writing or anything interesting. So ignore me! see all these posts are totally selfish! I just do research of sorts for me and then brain fart it onto the page! It’s never applicable to everyone anyway! :p P.S your books look amazing they are on my TBR pile

  10. What do you think about big cliff hanger endings at the end of the first book in a series? Sort of ‘Will the hero survive’ sort of thing, or a big shock or reveal at the end of the first book? I’m trying to write a book for the first time and already have the ending mind, but I’m not sure how well it’ll work 🙂

    1. What genre are you writing in?

      I think it depends on a lot of things.

      Generally speaking you need to satisfy the reader. If you have lead them on a journey with a particular storyline you need to finish that off, whether that be with a happily ever after or a shocker that’s up to you. But the storyline does need to be complete.

      I have a big shock at the end of my first book, BUT all my story lines are rounded off. The shock is really a hook into book two. It’s not something related to the plot lines of book one… So to speak.

      Personally I wouldn’t leave a story line from your first book open. But that’s not to say you can’t have a shocking ending – I would research your genre and see how others end books. Search out the ones with cliff hangers.

      Does that help?

      1. Yes – thank you! I’m trying to write a fantasy adventure quest sort of thing, and the characters basically achieve the goal of the first book, but find out that it didn’t work anyway – that’s the best way I can think of describing it without going into a lot of plot detail. They find out that a character they trusted has betrayed them, which is the main part of the reveal at the end of the first book. What do you think? And thanks again for your help!

        1. I think it sounds fascinating. I think It’s difficult to say without reading it. It’s important to satisfy your readers, which it sounds like you will if they complete their quest. But I’d say, once its done and edited get some writer friends to have a read and see what they think. Fresh eyes always help.

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