The Last Line. How to End a Story.
with Kathleen Kaska
AP: Give a brief explanation of how you know when the end is written? Is it instinct? Is it planned? Any advice to writers on ending a story?
KK: The murder’s been solved, loose ends have been tied up, but my protagonist, Sydney Lockhart’s life goes on, so I leave my readers with a bit of a cliff hanger for the next installment or a joke for them to contemplate.
It’s usually not planned. I let my characters lead me.
My advice to writers is to do what feels right, whether you’re a planner or a pantser.
AP: Give us the last line from one of your books, don't need to say which one, and a little about how you knew it was the last line?
KK: In my first mystery, Murder at the Arlington, Sydney encounters Ralph Dixon, a detective with the Hot Springs Police Department. There’s an instance attraction between them, but Sydney is determined to stay free and single. Also in the story, Sydney receives several annoying phone calls from her crazy parents. At the conclusion, Sydney is back home, working on her story (she’s a reporter). Here’s the ending.
The phone rang, jarring me out of my ruminations.
Mealworm’s [the cat] tail twitched. She shot an irritating look at the phone, then turned her attention back to the feeder. I looked down at Monroe, who was whimpering because of a doggy dream, which caused her to drool on my slipper.
The clock chimed ten.
“Who’d be calling at this hour?” I asked Mealworm. She knew the call wasn’t for her, so she ignored my question. It could be my mother calling to thank me for saving her marriage, or Red Newsome, inviting me to return to the Crooked J for an encore, or, maybe . . . Lieutenant Ralph Dixon. I wasn’t willing to take the chance.
Much to my cat’s annoyance, I just let the phone ring.
AP: Bonus: Tell us some of your favorite last lines in a book, include the title. And, maybe why it is a favorite.
KK: I’m hooked on Martha Grimes’ Emma Graham series. Here’s the ending of her first book, Cold Flat Junction:
I said, “I wish the past weren’t dead and gone; I wish things weren’t over.”
Dwayne smiles. “’The past ain’t dead; it ain’t even the past. Billy Faulkner.”
I thought for a moment, and then I smiled too. “This is my story, and it’s not over till I say it’s over. Emma Graham.”
I watched Dwayne’s real smoke and my pretend twine upward toward the gunmetal poacher’s moon.
It’s one of my favorites because there is something special going on between these two characters, Emma, age twelve and Dwayne, twenty-something. They are friends with future potential. I didn’t want the story to end.
Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart Mysteries set in the 1950s. Her first two books Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queens Book Group, the largest book group in the country. The third book in the series, Murder at the Galvez, was released in 2012. She also writes the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Sherlock Holmes trivia books are finalists for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story.
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HOW TO END A STORY
1. I know the story is ended when I write, the end because instinct tells me this is were to sign off. I don't plan an ending. I let the story dictate that. And I don't care for endings that I can predict. I think each writer has to figure out for themselves when it's time to sign off, which again, should be their choice. I like my endings to sum up the story, or... lead to another book.
2. Last line from one of my books: In the far distance the sound of ambulances could be heard as their sirens filled the air.
3. From, The Voyages of Joshua Slocum: The days passed happily with me wherever my ship sailed.
Joshua Slocum was the first American to sail around the world alone and even though he faced many crisis, he was never unhappy about what he was doing. I can relate to this story because of my sailing ventures.
From: Follow the Dream, by Heidi M. Thomas: Their applause filled the air, singing to her soul, ringing in her ears. A true story about a young woman in the 1920's who followed her dream, despite a great deal of opposition. Reminds me of my life.
In summary, I like a good story, whether told by a man or a woman, which holds my interest right up to that last line, which allows me to close the book satisfied, or, look forward to reading the sequel.
Find out more about Jared McVay
Often when my mind wanders it sparks ideas, this time it asked the question; How does an author know when they've written the last line?
So, I posed that question to author, Terry Persun.
by Terry Persun
The truth is, I don’t know my novel is over for several days after it’s actually over. I’ll write the last line, then revisit the chapter, and perhaps make changes (even to the last line). Then I’ll come back a third day and reread the last chapter again. If by this time it sticks, and I feel it’s over, then it’s over. Not that I haven’t changed a last line months later during rewriting, but usually, it stays fairly in tact.
I can’t say if it’s instinct or not, but most often it isn’t planned. I think the only planned last line I had was with my novel “Ten Months In Wonderland” where I framed the entire book in one image/feel. It goes like this: The Thai air hit him like the thick, high summer heat in the humid Pennsylvania valley where he’d grown up. The choice to frame this book came when I decided that my main character would get dropped into a strange world for the whole novel, not to get out and head back to the real world until the end. Like “Alice in Wonderland”, my character basically falls down a rabbit hole into a world unlike any he’d been in before.
So that was a planned last line. Here’s a last line from “The Perceived Darkness”, totally unplanned: Greg could imagine the sun rising already, even as he stared at the dark branches of the trees, swaying to the hard winter wind.
Endings are probably as mysterious as the stories themselves. I don’t think I know where this stuff comes from, but I do know that I have to write it down when it arrives. And over the years, I’ve become at ease with my writing duties. I try as often as I can to take Ray Bradbury’s advice in “Zen in the Art of Writing”, where he suggests that we combine work, relaxation, and don’t think together. By not thinking too much about what I’m writing, and just sitting down to do the work, I’ve learned how to make it a relaxing endeavor. That’s the best thing in the world.
For the bonus, here are a few of my favorite last lines.
From “Wilderness” by Robert Penn Warren: He could try, he thought, to be worthy of their namelessness, and of what they, as men and in their error, had endured.
From “Last Night at the Lobster” by Stewart O’Nan: It’s late, and he needs to get to bed if he’s going to make it in early tomorrow.
From “I Married You for Happiness” by Lily Tuck: When he sees Nina at the bedroom window, he stops what he is doing and, straightening up tall, he waves to her.
From “The Unlimited Dream Company” by J. G. Ballard: Already I saw us rising into the air—fathers, mothers, and their children—our ascending flights swaying across the surface of the earth, benign tornados hanging from the canopy of the universe, celebrating the last marriage of the animate and inanimate, of the living and the dead.
Forgive me, but this is from “The Witness Tree” by Terry Persun: As you must know by now, we had joined, had learned to become one, together, yet separate in our own worlds.
Terry Persun holds a Bachelor’s of Science as well as an MA in Creative Writing. He has worked as an engineer, has been the Editor-in-Chief of several technology journals, and is now marketing consultant for technical and manufacturing companies. Eleven of his novels, three of his poetry collections, and six of his poetry chapbooks have been published by small, independent publishers. His novels Wolf’s Rite and Cathedral of Dreams won ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist Awards, his historical novel, Sweet Song won a Silver IPPY Award, and his fantasy novel Doublesight won a POW Best Unpublished Manuscript Award (it is now published). His latest science fiction space opera is Hear No Evil, which was a finalist for the International Book Awards (in science fiction). His novel Ten Months in Wonderland was also a finalist for the International Book Awards (in historical fiction). His poems have been published widely in both independent and university journals including Kansas Quarterly, Wisconsin Review, Hiram Poetry Review, and many others.
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The Author in all of us
There is a story inside. One that needs out and to be read by others. It's there and now it's time for it to flow from author to the reader. Join us as we celebrate Indie authors.