Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writing Conclusions: The final scene

Typically after I've written the final battle, all that remains is a scene or two before I get to type those beautiful words, THE END.

Writing a satisfying conclusion is a real "gut" thing, I think. Many factors play into what makes an ending satisfying. The theme, the tone, the character's needs. Also, if it's a series or stand-alone. A conclusion for book two of a trilogy has different needs than book three.

Last year, I finished reading the final book in a series of 6 or 7. The series was about a group of friends, teenage girls. But the final scene of the series was between a character and her new boyfriend. It was a fine scene and all, but the series was rooted in the friendships of the girls. I think it would have been a much stronger ending had we finished with all of them together.

Like Gilmore Girls. The series needed to end with just Lorelai and Rory. It wouldn't have been at all satisfying if the final scene had been, say, Rory and Dean.

So as you're winding down to your last scene, it's good to ask who should be there? Who have you asked the reader to invest in? Because if you've done your job, that is who your reader is going to care about seeing in the final scene.

The next thing you should ask is how can I show my main character's growth and the change in their circumstances? That is, after all, why we've gone on this journey. If your main character needed to learn that love is worth investment and risk, then your final scene should do something that shows them invested and risking for love's sake. (The conclusion of This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen is a great example of this.) Or if your main character went on their journey to learn how to live in the moment, show them throwing caution to the wind and living in the moment.

But sometimes endings feel a little too tidy, don't they? The way to avoid this is to make it clear that things aren't perfect, just better. At the end of Me, Just Different, Skylar is walking down the hall and gets teased by her friends. She ignores them and keeps walking. Things aren't perfect, but she's learned how to better handle her situation.

At the end of Gilmore Girls, Rory is getting ready to leave, which is sad, but we see that no matter what happens, this mom and daughter will always have each other. And a great cup of coffee.

And after you've nailed down the perfect conclusion, work hard for the right final thought, and the right final sentence. Again, what makes something right has to do with the tone of the book. If your book is humorous, then something funny is appropriate. If your book is poignant, however, then you might not want to go out on a knock-knock joke. Pull a few books off your shelf - books you've read, ideally - and read the last paragraph and the last line. Do they work for the story? Why or why not?

When I was in 8th grade, I went to see the movie Ever After in theaters. It's a retelling of Cinderella. Wonderful movie. Anyway. I've always loved the last line, where the narrator says (something like) "And while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the important thing was they lived." Much of the movie had focused on living life with passion and seizing the moment, so it was a wonderful twist on the classic line.

I turned to my "favorites" shelf just now and pulled a few last lines for your reading pleasure:

"It's not a French kiss, or a slow dance, or even an admission he's the author of that anonymous letter. But it's a start."
Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

"In my dream, in my arms, my baby opened his eyes and smiled."
Little Earthquakes, Jennifer Weiner

"He had never expected to recognize such a thing if ever he found it."
A Stray Drop of Blood, Roseanna M. White

"I would always know what time it was in California."
White Oleander, Janet Fitch

"She couldn't wait to see what would happen next."
Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar

"So I lay back, closing my eyes, and let them fill my mind, new and familiar all at once, rising and falling with my very breath, steady, as they sang me to sleep."
This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen

"And I've never been one to turn a gift away."
So Over My Head, Jenny B. Jones

Anyone else want to play? Feel free to share some of the last lines from your favorite books.

Quick contest update. We had 44 entries to the 150 word free write - woo, woo! By tomorrow, I'll have the list of the top 15 entries from last round's writing prompt. Yes, usually it's the "Top 20," but because we allowed 150 words this round, we did just 15 so we could keep the word count pretty similar for our judges.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone!


  1. My favorite book ever is King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. This book is the third book in the Queen's Thief series, and it deals with Eugenides (The MC) trying to earn respect from is subjects. The last few lines are priceless.

    "Basileus," someone hidden in the steam whispered. Others echoed the phrase. "Basileus."
    Only Teleus shook his head. Costis watched him, not surprised. "The Basileus was a prince of his people, what we call a king now," Teleus explained. "That one" -- he nodded toward the closed door -- "will rule more then just Attolia before he is done. He is an Annux, a king of kings.

    Thanks for the great post Mrs. Morrill. The last few scenes in a book are my favorite. They almost always seem to end to soon.

    ~Sarah F.

  2. My favorite last lines ever are Tamenund's speech from Last of the Mohicans (which is too long to remember right here) and the final line of The Count of Monte Cristo: All human wisdom is contained in these words: Wait and Hope. I break down every time I read those lines (eight times altogether)

  3. Upon thinking of my own final scenes, I realize that a lot of the time, I tend to end in my 3rd POV. The brother, the friend, but not the hero or heroine. I'm not sure why I do this, except that I like to give a view of my hero and heroine together, as we the world would see them. So it's brother Wiley at the wedding, teasing the bridal couple, who blissfully ignore him. Or in the one Stephanie quoted above, the friend who had not approved finally seeing what they had built together. I don't always do this, but it gives me the opportunity to observe. And I like ending lines that can lend some fun observation.

    Here's one from Sarah Sundin's A DISTANT MELODY:

    Walt grinned and kissed her. "Yeah, it's even better than flying."


  4. Sarah, I agree! I race to get to the end and find out what happened ... then I'm sad to be at the end.

    JT, Last of the Mohicans is still on my to-read list, but I love The Count of Monte Cristo. Excellent story.

    Ro, how funny! I almost used A DISTANT MELODY too. It's shelved right next to yours :) And that's very true, you do often do that.

    My final scenes, I've observed, often take place a month or so later.

  5. I grabbed a few favorite books of the shelf and flipped to the last page. Here are the endings...

    - Deadly Ties by Vicki Hinze -
    "Yes, we were always loved." She pecked a kiss to his finger. Deadly ties might be hard to endure, but from them can spring ties of hope and joy.
    Ties of truth and of love.

    - Danger in the Shadows by Dee Henderson -
    Adam kissed her softly. "Good point. Come on."
    Sara laughed and followed his lead. She was going to love following this man for a lifetime. The future had never promised so much joy.

    - A Killer Among Us by Lynette Eason-
    "Yeah, let's go tell Ms. Michelle at the jewelry store she knew what she was talking about when she said she'd see us again."
    Hand in hand they headed for his car.

    :-) Katy

  6. Can't wait for the results!Love Sarah Dessen!Sierra

  7. I had a hard time writing the end in the first draft of my book. But here is an ending of a book/series that I like.

    -The Last Battle by C.S.Lewis-
    And as He spoke. He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

    Sorry for the length :\

    1. That is my favorite last line of all time, second only to the end of Revelation.

  8. Haha, glad to know others are like me and race to the finish line, then cry when the ribbon has been broken. :-)

    Here's the last line from Waterfall, which I fell in love with (and will blog a review of soon):

    They were forcing me away from the patch. The only path back. Back to Marcello. The only path love.

    I'd include the last line from Cascade, Waterfall's sequel, but despite my racing, I haven't finished it yet and don't want to spoil it for myself...though I know it will be a great one! :-)

    Then there's the last line from The Final Stormy by Wayne Thomas Batson:

    ["Are there adventures in the Sacred Realm?"]
    His snowy white mustache curled into a playful smile, and he said, "Beyond your wildest dreams."

  9. Love seeing so many different genres represented here!

  10. Rachelle,

    Waterfall is awesome and Cascade is even better! Yes, don't skip to the end or you'll find out something before its time. :-) I was going to post the ending of Cascade on here, but it gave away something. :-)

    Can't wait till Torrent comes out!!

    ~ Katy

  11. Okay, clearly I need to read Waterfall, Cascade, and Torrent. Added to my list :)

  12. I finished Cascade, Katy, and I'm grateful to you for refraining from posting the amazing ending. Me, too! I am wishing for September (and my pre-ordered Torrent) to come quickly!

    Oh, yes, Stephanie, you should! They're not to miss...One word of advice, wait until you have all three and a long weekend. :-)

  13. Whoops. That's The Last STORM by Wayne Thomas Batson ~ not The Last Stormy.

    And my blog review of Waterfall is live today!

  14. Ok, I'm kinda late to this party, but I just have to share my favorite last line from a novel:

    Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.
    ~I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

    That whole book is smashing, really. :)

    I've been reading over your steps to novel writing, especially the ones on first drafts; I'm getting into the novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo and was looking for some encouragement/advice. Thanks for theses posts, they have helped me a lot!