Monday, May 3, 2010

Best Last Lines

“The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.” – James Bryce

I was recently a guest at Karen Cioffi – Writing for Children where I blogged about first lines in books for children. Previously I’d written a post about Best First Lines in Novels. Talking about first lines made me wonder if there were any lists for the best last lines in novels. I’m happy to say I found several.

The following are some of my favorites. I selected them because they were fun, famous or sounded like a good first line making me want to read the book.

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

He loved Big Brother. – 1984 by George Orwell

I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it! - Absalom, Absalom! By William Faulkner

It was the nightmare of real things, the fallen wonder of the world. The Names by Don DeLille

Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is. Continental Drift by Russell Banks

YOU HAVE FALLEN INTO ART – RETURN TO LIFE – Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife by William H. Gass

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

P.S. Sorry I forgot to give you the mayonnaise. Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

“Terminal.” The End of the Road by John Barth

He waited for someone to tell him who to be next. The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson

This is the difference between this and that. A Novel of Thank You by Gertrude Stein

So I mean listen I got this neat idea hey, you listening? Hey? You listening…? J R by William Gaddis

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I have to toss in one from a children’s book.

But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. The House at Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

If you’d like to read more last lines, Best Last Line from Famous Books at lists lines from 100 books and lastlines at are two of the best sources I found.

Does your novel have a great last line? If so, I’d love to hear it. Do you have a favorite last line from a novel you’ve read? Would a good last line make you want to read a novel you haven't read before?

I hope you can stop by next Monday (5/10) when guest blogger L. Diane Wolfe will be talking about types of burnout (writer burnout, promoting burnout), how to avoid and how to deal with it. Diane is an accomplished speaker and author. Her books are Overcoming Obstacles with Spunk! and The Circle of Friends series. The fifth book in the series, Heather was recently released, so I have a feeling this is a topic Diane has been dealing with lately. To find out more about Diane, visit Spunk on a Stick blog and website and come back next week.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Tags: James Bryce, first lines, last lines , Faulkner, Wuthering Heights, Orwell, Dickens, Gaddis, L. Diane Wolfe,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks for the mention and looking forward to it!

I think the best last lines from my books are the ones that involve dialogue.

Mason Canyon said...

Enjoyed the best "last lines." Those are the kind that makes the reader want a follow-up book. You read those lines and say, "No, it can't stop here."

Looking forward to Diane's post.

Thoughts in Progress

Joanne said...

Two lines here really do it for me ... "Sorry I forgot to give you the mayonnaise," is one. Something about this line speaks of so much more than mayo. And of course the Pooh line, which always strikes a chord of sadness when I read it.

Carol Kilgore said...

I loved this one:

He waited for someone to tell him who to be next. The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson

Anonymous said...

Mine does not have agreat last line. I thought it did until I added a few additonal chapters. I need to work the last page. Thanks for the inspiration. I'll have to think of something daring and clever.

Stephen Tremp

Tamika: said...

Can't wait for the burnout talk! Bring it on!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Great choices, Jane! I'm not sure I have a favourite last line, and I know my last line isn't there yet. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

Helen Ginger said...

Love opening lines and last lines. They can make you keep reading (or put it down) and wish for more.

Straight From Hel

Watery Tart said...

My favorite is definitely the Tale of Two Cities line you already mentioned (best beginning there, too). I like the Prince of Tides, too, "Llewenstein." (I might have spelled that wrong, but he just just sending out a thank you into the ether).

I really like my first books ending. A conversation between a small child and an old man where he's trying to explain why bad things happened. She says, "that's silly," to which he responds, "Oh, Hannah, a lot of bad things happen for silly reasons." Very happy with that.

arlee bird said...

My WIP, A Desert Place has a beginning and a end, but I still am working on some of the middle.
Currently my last line reads:

Joe had found his Nineveh in a desert place.

Any comments? I'd love to hear some opinions about it.

Tossing It Out

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Diane, I’m looking forward to next week. Burnout is definitely a topic I think lots of bloggers are interested in.

Mason, I agree, but I never gave last lines much thought until recently.

Joanne, I thought the mayo line was funny, too. It’s true the Pooh line does have a touch of melancholy to it.

Carol, that was my favorite too—maybe because I’m still waiting for someone to tell me:)

Good luck with that last line, Stephen. I bet you come up with a zinger.

Tamika, I’m ready for that talk, too!

Elspeth, I’m kind of sorry to add something else for writers to think about (we have enough all ready), but now I’m thinking last lines are almost as intriguing as the first ones.

Helen, some authors seem to have a talent for clever first and last lines. I know I plan to work on both of these areas in my future manuscripts.

Watery Tart, the last line of Tale of Two Cities has stayed with me since high school and that’s a long time ago—I guess that’s definitely a memorable last line. And your last line rings so true. I like it!

Arlee, the beginnings and endings are the hardest parts! My first thought in reading your last sentence is that Nineveh IS a desert place – but now I realize that may not have been true back in its day or that it’s meant as irony. The line is good enough that I want to find out more—and I think that’s the whole point.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Hi, Jane...I have no idea what the last line in my book is...and, am too lazy to look it up. Probably not that great anyway.

I'll be looking forward to Diane's burnout discussion, as I am definitely on that path. Apparently I'm not cut out for blogging and writing...or at least blogging.

Best Wishes, Galen.

Laura Marcella said...

Great choices, Jane! Hmmm, I can't think of any single last lines, only last paragraphs.

I'm looking forward to L. Diane's post!

Patricia Stoltey said...

That's a great idea -- I've always looked at first sentences instead of last ones. I'll happily borrow this idea for a future post of my own (and goodness knows I have so many books sitting around the house, I should be able to find some pretty cool endings).

Darcia Helle said...

Great post, Jane! Also a good reminder that last sentences are often as important as the first.

My favorite was: Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is. Continental Drift by Russell Banks.

wifsie said...

I do not have a novel but I agree with you: even a short piece should have a great opening line, and a great ending. It's like tying a nice ribbon on a gift. :)

Marvin D Wilson said...

Enjoyed the post - also will look forward to Diane's visit!

The Old Silly

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

The Pooh Corner one always makes me cry!

I'm tweeting this...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jan Morrison said...

I just wrote my last lines today! Love that blog serendipity. I know I still have lots to do to get there but this is it - from 'True'
"I untied the medicine bundle from her belt and began the long walk back home. Home at last."

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Galen, since I’m currently reading and enjoying “Hearts of the Morning Calm,” I peeked at the last sentence. It’s actually a very good one, “The door was closed, the lock engaged, the journey complete, and Young’s sweet, sustaining promise…fulfilled.” I say Bravo! I think constant blogging is a lot more difficult than writing so I’m looking forward to Diane’s post, too.

Thanks, Laura. I think Diane’s burnout topic is something everyone is interested in.

Patricia, I’ll look forward to your future post and reading more cool endings.

Darcia, that was one of the endings that has now made me want to read the book.

Maryse, I love your analogy.

Thanks, Marvin.

Don’t cry, Elizabeth! Thanks for the tweet.

Jan, isn’t it a great feeling to write those last lines! I must admit yours sound intriguing.

Jenny S. said...

I enjoyed this post, Jane, but I'm afraid my last line pales in comparison to the great ones you've listed.

The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I don't think I ever remember last lines at all. By then I'm usually wondering if I want to read the book again and what I'm going to read next.

An interesting list though.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I have bookmarked this particular post of yours- it is wonderful.

And there is something for you on my blog.

dirtywhitecandy said...

What a great idea for a post. Like Patricia I usually judge a book by first lines, but your batch here make me want to go and read your selections.
Interestingly, these last lines don't give too much away. Rather than being factual, they are emotionally resonant. I suppose this shows a good last line encapsulates something about the whole emotional experience of the novel. On its own, we can only guess at the punch it packs.

Hmmm... I think you may have started a chain of posts here... I feel the urge to blog.

Sharon Lippincott said...

I found your blog via Karen Walker's, and I'm so glad I came to visit. What a fascinating challenge you pose — to end with impact. Thank you! I'm enjoying all the comments too. What a delight to have lively, articulate readers.

Enid Wilson said...

Great post! Last line can be more important than first line, for I always check out the ending first.

Steamy Darcy

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world