5 Elements of a Resonant Closing Line

As important as the opening line may be to convincing someone to read your book, the closing line is the one that determines how well your story works—and whether or not readers will find your story a satisfying experience.

Last month, we talked about the 5 Elements of a Riveting Opening Line, and today we’re going to bring the discussion full circle by exploring the five elements that will help you craft the kind of closing line that caps your entire story and leaves readers with a feeling of unforgettable resonance.

5 Elements of Closing Lines That Satisfy Readers

Like first lines, last lines in themselves aren’t all that memorable. Can you remember the closing lines of the last five books you enjoyed? The memorability of the lines themselves isn’t nearly as important as the memorability of the feeling with which they leave your readers.

Let’s take a look at the closing lines of five of my favorite books:

“Hooker yet upon the Rappahannock,” he said. “We must have him across the Potomac, and we must ourselves invade Pennsylvania.”The Long Roll by Mary Johnston

Vin closed her eyes, simply feeling the warmth of being held. And realized that was all she had ever really wanted.–Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

“Why, sir,” said the hall-porter, smiling at him, “never fret yourself about haste post-haste: here is Sir Joseph himself, coming up the steps, a-leaning on Colonel Warren’s arm.”The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian

And after that it sometimes almost seemed as if there were fewer enemy planes in the skies.–After Dunkirk by Milena McGraw

He looked a long time.Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

What is it about these lines that makes these stories resonate? How did these closing lines embed these stories in readers’ minds and help them carry the stories with them long after they closed the back covers? Let’s take a look at a couple of factors.

5 Steps to a Resonant Closing Line Infographic

(Featured in the Structuring Your Novel Workbook.)

1. Summation

The end of the book marks the end (didn’t see that coming, did you?), even if it’s part of a series—as are all the books I’ve listed except After Dunkirk. The closing line should give readers a sense of finality, a sense that the main issues of the plot have been taken care of and that they can safely leave the characters without worrying that anything more momentous is going to strike.

In the examples above, we find Mistborn’s main character discovering safety and love in a relationship, the thwarting of an enemy plot by the arrival of a spymaster in Reverse of the Medal, and the beginning of the end of the Battle of Britain in After Dunkirk.

2. Theme

At its heart, story is theme. We dress it up with plot and characters, but theme is what the story is about. So it’s only appropriate we strike a final emotional note in our last sentence. Although not necessarily evident out of context, the books above use their final lines to reinforce their themes of war, love, trust, hope, and redemption.

3. Pacing

The final line—and the lines building up to it—should provide the appropriate pacing to guide readers to an instinctual understanding of the coming end. Just as a song builds to a climax, then tapers into the subsequent notes to ease listeners back into silence, the end of a story must slow its pacing to ease readers out of the story back into their comfy La-Z-Boys.

The lines listed above vary in length, but most of them are punchy sentences—which were preceded by longer, lyrical, sometimes almost dreamy paragraphs, which the authors used to ease back from the action of the story, so they could hammer home one final thought before releasing readers.

4. Farewell

Not all closing lines will feature the main character. Sometimes authors will utilize a “pulling back” of the camera to show readers a broad view of the story, rather than a close up of the protagonist. However, the closing line is usually the last chance to say goodbye to the characters for both the author and the reader.

The Long Roll, Mistborn, and Ender’s Game all feature the protagonist in the final sentence. After Dunkirk, which is narrated in the first person by the protagonist, offers the main character’s final thoughts to the reader. And Reverse of the Medal’s comparatively abrupt ending features a line of dialogue that readers already knows the main character is desperately awaiting.

5. Continuation

Finally—and a bit contradictorily—the closing line should also indicate that the story isn’t over, that, in fact, the lives of the surviving main characters will continue long after the reader closes the back cover. In Worlds of Wonder, David Gerrold points out:

A great last line should leave your reader satisfied that you have said everything that needs to be said—and at the same time, it should stand as a launch pad for the reader’s imagination to leap off into its own flight of fantasy about what happens next.

The Long Roll leaves us looking into the future, toward the inevitable Battle of Gettysburg. Mistborn assures us the main character will be moving forward in a healthy relationship. Reverse of the Medal ties up its plot’s loose threads and sends us hurtling into the sequel. After Dunkirk’s weary hope promises the eventual end of World War II. And Ender’s Game’s nebulous (and brilliant) final line indicates both a present incompletion (and thus a sense of continuation) and an eventual finality at the end of the protagonist’s long search.

***

Your closing line will depend greatly on the story that precedes it: its tone, pacing, and the mood you want to strike with its ending. But if you can incorporate all or most of these elements into your final words, you just might be on your way to the kind of ending that grabs hold of readers and refuses to let them go.

Wordplaers, tell me your opinions! What’s your favorite closing line and why? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. @K.M… Do it! Especially before the movie comes out in January. I highly recommend reading them in order, but it’s not a requirement. 🙂 Don’t worry (too much) about the between-the-numbers books. They don’t factor in terribly much to the ongoing stories/relationships. And, they’re really more comedy than mystery… though usually something has to be solved. It’s a light mystery… even when there are dead bodies. 🙂

  2. I’ve got to get through my huge TBR pile first, but I’ll grab Evanovich on my next trip to the library!

  3. Yes! A last line should resonate long after you close the book. The ones you’ve posted here are just marvelous, and they have the effect, for me, of making me want to read the first lines!

  4. Great point! If a last line can make us want to go back and reread the whole thing right then and there, an author (or a reader) can’t ask for more.

  5. My favourite closing line is absolutely the closing line of ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman. I’m not going to quote it, because it’s like a punch in the stomach at the end of the book. It ticks all the boxes you mention in your post, and made my hairs stand up. You’ll just have to read it!

  6. I guess I will! Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Are you guys kidding?? None of you have mentioned one of the greatest closing lines of all times. “Tomorrow is another day!” GWTW. Nuff said?

  8. Always a classic!

  9. M.L. Bull says

    Thank you for this post! It seems that my closing line should be “continuation” since my novel ‘Wisdom’ is a part of a book series. I’ve been trying to come up with the right closing line, something that will connect to the upcoming summer in ‘Mercy’ book 2.

  10. One of my favorite last lines is from my time-travel novel, STEELDUST.
    “You realize, don’t you, Pard…” He glanced at the door once more and whispered, “…Sheriff and Marshal Flynn are my great-grandparents?”

  11. Thanks for yet another great article.

    I’m very much in favours of the ending that ties up almost all the loose ends, but either hints or directly states that “The road goes ever on.”

    These are the endings of the Arcturian novels:

    ‘Now,’ interrupted Jane, ‘something far more important, and I’m calling on Ian to judge.’
    Sinclair looked puzzled.
    ‘Would you not say that what I’ve done is the action of a total ratbag, and that I’m at least as devious, scheming and shrewish as ever I was?’
    ‘Aye,’ said Sinclair, with deep feeling.
    ‘So will you please all tell Spence that I’m back on form, that I’ve got over Alan’s death as far as I’m ever going to, and that I want to come back on operations, properly, now.’
    Keefe took her hands, and his beard split in a beaming grin. ‘Welcome home Jane,’ he said.
    She grinned. ‘Thanks. I’m sorry, Ian. It had to be done.’
    Ian sipped his drink. ‘Had to be done? Why?’
    ‘Arthur Kelso is still out there somewhere. And while he’s free he’s trouble. When that trouble blows up you’re going to need me on operations, which is why I had to come back. I’m only sorry that I had to do it the hard way.’

    Spence was sprinting across the grass towards Jane.
    ‘Hello,’ Jane said, ‘you’re just in time to try the chicken.’
    The old man smiled. ‘I caught the end of your announcement. You’ve no idea how relieved I was.’
    Jane gave him a puzzled look. ‘Relieved?’
    ‘After what you went through I thought you were going to—I mean I wouldn’t have blamed you if—’
    ‘Controller Spence, were you really afraid that I was going to leave Space Fleet, just when it’s getting interesting? Oh, honestly, I hoped you knew me better than that.’
    Spence laughed. ‘Thanks, Jane. We need you.’
    Her smile became a grin. ‘That’s why I’ve no intentions of leaving, ever. We both know that there will be worse things ahead, but tonight is not for worrying. Let me get you a drink.’

    There is something similar at the end of Tom Twine (the time travel novel). Tom is a time travelling alien who has shape shifted to look like an ordinary schoolboy. He takes two other kids on time travel trips, but when asked to explain anything just says “You won’t understand, it’s a time travel thing.” At the end of the book he has a final confrontation with the school bullies:

    “I sent them somewhere there were a lot of abandoned valuables. As I said their owners had just run away.”
    “Hold it,” said Daphne. “Why had they run away? No, what were they running away from?”
    Tom shrugged. “Probably they were running away from what they’d just realised was about to happen.”
    “Which was exactly what?”
    “The Titanic was about to sink. They’re in one of the first-class suites.”
    “Except,” I said, “you’ve locked the door.”
    “Really?” said Daphne, her face a mixture of horror and glee.
    Tom nodded. “Don’t worry, the headmaster will soon get it-”
    There was a crash of falling water.
    “-open. Unfortunately the ship will be about fifty or sixty feet down by now. There’s a lot of water pressure that far under the ocean.”
    Our eyes were fixed on the outside of the school where water was beginning to spurt from the edge of the boys’ loo window.
    Then the entire frame exploded out of the building followed by a column of seawater, a few dozen odd fish, Lobb, Barker and the headmaster.
    The head was slowly picking himself up, water pouring from his trousers. “You two again? I’ve had enough…”
    We wandered off. Tom wasn’t going to tell us if there would be more jaunts, or if our history was now fixed.
    It was yet another time travel thing.

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