Guest Post: How to Write an Unforgettable Closing Line

This morning, please welcome author Jonathan Vars to the blog!

Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His work in literary analysis of classic films and literature has been published by academic websites and he is the author of the soon to be released novel Like Melvin, for which he is currently writing a sequel. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, painting, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter (hahaha, me too… I think I’m part bear and should be hibernating this time of year ::starts weeping::). He is currently willing to consider guest blogs for his website. 

How to Write an Unforgettable Closing Line

“He loved Big Brother.”
George Orwell—1984

                  Possibly the most famous closing line in literature, this sentence from George Orwell sends home the final KO punch in his novel 1984, helping cement it as the classic dystopian novel of all time. The closing line will be the very last thing your reader’s take from your book, “the last bow” to your novel. It is therefore one of the most important pieces of writing in your entire book. The problem is, how do you come up with a killer closing line?

Typewriter keys

Credit: Laineys Repertoire, flickr.com

There are many ways one can go about this, the thing to keep in mind is this: your closing line will determine the feeling your reader’s take away from your book. Do you want to leave them satisfied? Sad? Reflective? Your closing line must be the final note they hear, that last scrape of the violin or strain of piano that they carry with them ever after in their minds. Here are some tactics to keep in mind when composing the final line of your novel:

Circling Back

Circling back is one of the best ways to end a book when you want to leave your readers satisfied with the results. There are many ways to circle back in fiction, most notably by referencing a scene or quote from the very beginning of the book. For example, let’s say your book begins with two people meeting at the park. Supposing the plot of the book focuses on the ups and downs of their relationship, ending in happy resolution, it would be very fitting to end the book by having the two characters walk hand in hand through the same park. Conversely, you could have the characters go their own separate ways, both walking away from the park. This would create a completely different mood, but still make use of the circling back concept.

Symbolic Imagery

A bit of symbolic imagery is often a very fitting way to end a story. Let’s suppose you have a character who is represented throughout the book by a songbird who sings outside the window. Supposing the character dies at the end of the story, a fitting way to end the book might be to have the bird fly away, leaving the reader with perhaps a sad but still satisfying sense of closure. Symbolism is that “extra layer” that adds depth to the story, it reaches readers on a deeper level. This makes ending the book on a symbolic note a surefire way to help your novel be remembered.

Ambiguity

For certain works of fiction, particularly speculative fiction, a good dose of ambiguity at the end is often fitting. For various reasons, a writer may not want to let it be known exactly how the story ends, ensuring the reader will think about it long after they’ve read it. Suppose you have a story that takes place in a future apocalyptic world. A fitting way to end the book might be to have two leaders from warring nations each “hovering over the button” at risk of engaging in thermonuclear war. As this is a concern many have today, leaving the issue unresolved will cause the reader to think hard about the issues in the book.

Absolute Finality

The polar opposite of ambiguity, absolute finality is used when a writer wants to leave their reader with “a punch to the stomach.” Orwell’s quote above is an example of this writing technique. Essentially, the writer ends the book in such a way that the reader knows there is absolutely no turning back. What is interesting about this concept is that the actual closing line can be made to appear somewhat innocuous, but carries a great weight to the reader. Suppose you have a story where a character is hunting a man for the entire book. When he finds him, you could end the book by saying, “With a swift gesture, he shut the door.” Though innocent enough in appearance, this gesture of finality indicates the inevitable intentions of the character.

“And Life Goes On”

Finally, a perfectly acceptable way to end a book is to close with a simple, even banal statement that simply communicates to the reader that life will go on as it has. Books are often presented as a peek into certain character’s lives from the outside. By closing with a generic statement about life in general, it is almost an indication that “we should move on.” We have seen what we need to see of these characters’ lives. In certain instances, this can almost cause an eerie effect. Suppose your book focuses on a corrupt government and a character’s defiance of it (like 1984). If the character ends up failing in his attempt, ending the book with a simple description of how the people of the country are continuing to go about their lives will leave the reader with a somewhat defeated feeling, recognizing the ultimate failure of the protagonist.

Though I’ve only scratched the surface of this subject, this should help provide direction if you are struggling with how to end your book. Remember, the most important question is this: what do you want your reader to walk away feeling? Provide that word snapshot that captures the heart of your book, and your reader will carry it in their minds forever.

  • mariangreen

    A good read. Thank you.

    gramswisewords.blogspot.com

  • http://peterrey.com Peter Rey

    Well crafted closing lines can be like a last and friendly handshake. Of course, provided the story is good =)

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