Lessons to Practice #21: The Closing Line

Why, hello again! Welcome back to my blog, You New Adult Nostalgic. I’m really excited you’re here, in this shared space of young adult musings and my “Lessons to Practice”  posts. For those of you who are new, this series is my informal exploration of all kinds of writing topics, and ranges from suggestions I’ve stumbled across, to in-depth explorations of other’s writing workshops and tools, to tips and tricks for overcoming a variety of writer’s roadblocks.

Tonight I’m really excited to write about the closing lines of our creative fiction. I talked about the importance of opening lines in my “Lessons to Practice #6,” which you can find here. Now I’d like to look at the final words of our story. 

This sentence is the lingering link between the writer and the reader. I imagine that most of us spend a serious amount of time poring over possible final lines for our works. That’s fun most days! But it can also be stressful and daunting. Let’s figure out why that is, and what we as writers can do to make sure we leave our fans wanting more. 

A Closer with Purpose

How do you want to end your story? Chances are that you’re looking to leave your readers with a satisfying conclusion, which is a great idea. However, this requires some pretty deliberate thought as far as your overall story goes.

As you play with your ultimate line, be sure to give due consideration to the following:

  • Your story’s theme: Is your story primarily about love? Then make sure your closer sweeps us off our feet one last time, or at least leaves us with one more lingering sense of giddiness. Or, if you’re writing a taut thriller, you’ll want a final sentence that’s punchy, reflects the struggles that you’ve put your characters through, and evokes a sense of grim finality — regardless of whether or not your heroine finds what they’re looking for

  • Characters: What has your protagonist been through for the last several chapters? Have they grown or regressed? Is your last line from their perspective? If not, it should still hit on the highs and lows of their journey. You may consider ending your book with your protagonist’s or main character’s musings, a specific action they take which draws the story to a moving close, or the next step they must take in order to reach their final goal, if this is the first book in a series. That way, we as the reader can latch on to our fictional guide and continue to empathize with them, even as we transition to the next story

  • Your message: At the end of your story, we should set your book down and have a good sense of what it all meant. With a Dystopian novel, for example, most readers want to be left wondering (maybe even somewhat fearfully) what the future holds. By writing a well-thought out ending that summarizes your overall message (with subtlety, of course),  you are much more likely to help the reader understand your intentions and leave them with an appropriate emotional gauge

For a fantastic example, check out the ending of Heat below, and see how DeNiro’s closing line stays with you:

Personal Tips for an Effective Closer

  • Keep your syntax simple! Don’t worry about throwing in fancy words or summarizing every single loss and victory that your hero has gone through. A good ending sentence should be no more than around 25 words; otherwise, you risk alienating your readers
  • Remember what you love most about your story, then say it covertly in those final words. If you want your readers to understand how passionate you are about gay rights, it would be fitting to leave them with a call to action that is inspiring without being overly sentimental
  • Try repetition! Unique or memorable phrases that you’ve used in your story can help jog readers’ memories and make them feel the “full-circle effect” of your tale. Try using the exact same line from earlier in your story as your closer. This technique usually brings about an extra bit of artistic flair 😉

My Personal Favorite Ending Line

Of course, I’d be remiss to close this post without sharing my favorite literary closing line. This one is from Stephen King’s The Stand, and it really nails the life-and-death struggle — as well as the cyclical nature of humanity — that King establishes throughout his story.

Thanks for reading! What is your favorite closing line? Do you enjoy writing your final sentences? Comment below and let’s have an awesome dialogue.

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