Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 12, 2010

Looking for Last Lines

Yesterday my attention was snagged by a picture of red-brown ants crawling over drying, leaves. But, reading the comments on Tracy’s blog http://tracyworld.livejournal.com/149164.html , apparently not everyone found the picture as stunning as I did. So if you click the above link, depending on how you feel about insects, you may want to go straight for Tracy’s words. She wrote about reaching the end of the novel she’s writing. She knows the end of her narrative, but is wondering about the last few lines. What exactly should they sound like? What are just the right words to wind things up or open them out? Will it be dialogue or description, a character’s action or a thought?

I’ve been there, feeling both stuck and hopeful. In the comment section I wrote:. Linger. Bite your nails. Sleep on it.

This is what popped into my mind about how I’ve handled last lines. Lingering: sometimes staring at the page, though staring out the window usually works better. Biting my nails: I obsess, but it doesn’t help as much as setting the question in my mind then stepping away, talking a walk or taking a nap.

This morning, because I’m very fond of Tracy, and, I suppose, offering unsolicited advice, I’m thinking of other ways I’ve looked for endings. Many times I’ve lopped off some lines and found the right ones buried just a little bit back. Is there a clue in my title? Or on the first page? Do I swing back from where I began or further away?

Sometimes I’ll look at how other writers handled this, maybe reading some poems that have entirely different subjects but noting the strategies for ending: do they land on an image or question, does the view widen or get smaller? A technique such as this can be borrowed and made your own. (And maybe it’s just getting out of your head for a while, and into another’s, that’s helpful.)

Since I think first with pictures, moving away from that and playing more with sounds can work for me. I like to switch from thinking of what I do as writing, to find parallels in music, art, dance, some other form less embedded to literal meaning. Is the sound one I want? Is the weight too whispy or too heavy, the balance right or off just enough? Is there an interesting shift in color?

Do I hear a Huh? I go back.

Or The End? Maybe that’s too much of a thud.

Or is that mystery and resolution curling together?

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Responses

  1. This is so timely b/c I’m struggling over the same spot in my novel! Only in my case, I have written the last lines and they are perfect. And they follow a flawed but tightly constructed epilogue. Which now I’ve been asked to take apart and make smaller. But like a house of cards, my whole ending is falling to the ground.
    I don’t know how to rebuild after revising so many times. Last lines, especially ones you love, are seductive and hard to give up.

  2. Sheela, I’m struggling somewhat the same way. Although this major overhaul of my novel has been a very, very good thing, I actually loved the ending of the earlier version. So now I’m trying to find that same balance even though the lead-in is no longer the same.
    I wish you well as you find your way to your ending (again) via the new epilogue.

  3. Jeannine, thank you so much for sharing more of your insights on this whole endeavor. I did read the ending of a favorite book yesterday, and that helped somewhat. But I’m going to read some poetry and see what that triggers. And I’m going to reread the opening and then maybe put on some music and dance. Or hoop. Or howl at the moon.
    In any event, I feel very fortunate to have a friend thinking deep thoughts on my account. Thank you for caring enough to share. 🙂 Have a splendid day!

  4. Oh, Sheela, that sounds hard. I hope you find just the right words among those fallen cards, and expect you will. It’s so hard to mourn our excavated treasures though!

  5. Well, I wanted to somehow be with you in this hard moment, and glad to hear it might have helped. But I wish I’d put howling at the moon on my list. What phase is she in tonight?
    Sounds like you’re on your way. Hoping to have a good day — way away from endings, though they’re always worth thinking about!

  6. Not sure what phase the moon’s in but whatever it is, I’m sure howling will be in order. I just read the version of the final chapter I liked best last night before bed, and do not like it all in the light of day.
    Linger. Bite nails.

  7. I wish there was a cupcake solution somewhere here.

  8. We could always insert a cupcake solution, Sheela. Just muscle in and make room!


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