This post was originally posted on August 4, 2010.
I’m going back and forth between working on the 3rd draft and reading Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction.
One of my favorite things about reading a novel (or writing one) is the “da da da DUH” of a last line in a chapter or scene. Something that makes you HAVE to flip to the next page and read a few lines of the following chapter to see where things are going.
Maass, who is a literary agent, says that these first and last lines, if done well, are like a checkered flag in an auto race. He writes that you don’t need the flag to tell you the race is over, it’s obvious when a car crosses the finish line, but the waving of the flag adds drama. So do the first and last lines. They add a flourish that “can set a tone. They can signal where we’re going, or what we’ve done, or serve any number of other useful story purposes.”
I love writing them. I don’t know if I get them right, or they’re dramatic enough, or they just come off pithy, but those lines are probably my favorite. Hopefully I’ve hit the tone right on a few of them.
Here’s is a nice few lines at the end of Chapter 12 from Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Leon is about to give his mother, Emily, (and the reader) a horrible piece of news.
“Her son’s hand was hot and heavy on her shoulder, and she felt its dampness through the silk. Helplessly, she let herself be guided toward the drawing room, all her terror concentrated on the simple fact that he wanted her seated before he broke his news.”