A while back I wrote a blog about the pressure of getting the first lines in a novel as good as you possibly can. You want them to be perfect, to engage the reader, to encourage people to buy your book if they are casually thumbing through it in a bookstore. First lines are imperative in selling that book.
But it’s been said by everyone I know in publishing that the last line of your book is equally as important because that last line sells the next book. It makes the reader want to read more of what you’ve written.
True? I’m a little skeptical. Here’s why.
These are some last lines in novels that have been arbitrarily voted THE BEST LAST LINES in literature according to 10 sites I Googled.
- “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
- “He loved Big Brother.” 1984, by George Orwell
- “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
- “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
- “A good man is hard to find.” The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
- “I’m so glad to be home again.” The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
- The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
- It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
- The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
Now, I could have listed a bunch more, but time – and my knowledge of the books – prevented me.
So, for these nine, I’ve read them all. It’s comical to me how George Orwell is listed twice for two books I absolutely hated. The only reason I read them was because it was required in high school lit. I would never have read another of his after the first one if it hadn’t been required; these two last line examples perfect reasons for that.
Now, breaking these down. There’s one romance (although I know it wasn’t called that when it was written, but in my mind, GWTW is the ultimate Civil War romance), three books aimed at children and teens, two sci-fi’s and two literary classics.
Two adult authors for whom I would have bought another book are Margaret Mitchell and L. Frank Baum.
Everyone who knows me knows I lovelovelove Gone With the Wind – movie and book, and The Wizard of Oz – movie and book. I can quote pages of dialogue and exposition for both. And based on the last lines of both books above, I would have run out and bought the next thing each author wrote.
But the others? Not so much.
I did read all the Harry Potters. They were fabulous, but the last lines of the book had nothing to do with wanting to read the rest of the series. I wanted to know what happened to Harry. The line above tells it all and when that book was published, I was done. I haven’t read anything else by Rowling, including anything written under her new pen name Robert Galbraith.
Dickens, although being a master writer, is just too much for me. Now, I happened to like A Tale of Two Cities – the story line, not the execution of it (too verbose!), but I wouldn’t have read something else based on the last lines in the work. If I read anything, it would have been because I liked the story or the way in which it was told.
Now, E.B. White I have read as a child and as an adult and have enjoyed. Charlotte’s Web was my first introduction, and I actually love the last line of the book. Stuart Little, the Trumpet of the Swan, and even his work On Dogs, are all favorites of mine. They are well written, easy to read and interpret, tug at heartstrings and deliver their messages subtlety. You are not whacked over the head with their themes, but you can identify them readily.
I never did get Catcher in the Rye. I actually think – and don’t send me hate mail because of this – it’s just my feeling – the book is hard to get unless you’re a teenage boy. I never connected with the character and most of the plot seemed way too contrived. Has Salinger ever written anything else that came close to this book’s popularity? I don’t know. And believe me, I really don’t care, especially based on that last line.
So, how important is that last line, last sentence, last paragraph, for the reader to want to pick up something else you’ve written? I don’t know about other readers, but for me, it’s the whole story and how it’s told that really makes me want to shell out some cash for another work by the same person. If I’m disappointed in the nuts and bolts of the story, the last line could be the best line ever written and I still wouldn’t read something else by the same author.
I know manymanymany people are going to disagree with me about this and that’s fine. This is still America and we are allowed to– supposed to!- have differences of opinions. I personally just think the entire story is more important in my choosing another book by the same author, the last line be damned.