This week’s flash fiction prompt from Chuck Wendig is so short one can almost misconstrue it as easy. Here it is:
Your task this week is simple:
I want you to come up with a single sentence.
No more than thirteen words long.
That’s it? I thought initially, until I started to really think about it. In another blog-life I ran a prompt series called “Modeling Monday” in which I used first sentences as an inspiration for creating fiction, but last sentences never caught my attention in the same way. This week’s prompt has me wondering: What IS a last sentence?
I only know one way to attempt to answer this question: read last sentences!
So that’s what I’ve been doing, reading and collecting sentences, looking for patterns, trying to answer my question of what the heck a last sentence should look like. I’ve been unable to come up with an answer, as in I do not see a singular type of last sentence, I see many.
Here is a collection of last lines from a bunch of books I love, and what purpose I think they serve.
** WARNING! THERE ARE STORY SPOILERS AHEAD! **
The Crystal Ball Last Sentence
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes:
“P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard.”
Oh my dear, dear Charlie… Can we gush about this book for a minute? Just reading this one sentence brings back all the feels for me. In my humble opinion, it’s an incredible last sentence.
As the story of Charlie’s experimentation comes to a close, and the novel concludes, Daniel Keyes uses a note about our furry friend Algernon to steal away all of those post-reading nagging questions like, “I wonder what will happen to our protagonist next…” First, the physical structure of the sentence (similar to many before it) demonstrates Charlie’s cognitive decline with heartbreaking clarity to all who have read the whole book through. It is clear that Charlie is following in Algernon’s paw-steps (is that ridiculous? Should I have just written footsteps?). Which takes us to our crystal ball — the flowers for Algernon’s GRAVE — the readers now know exactly what happens next for Charlie and they can go ahead, put their book down, find a box of tissues, and look for someone to hug.
The Mission: Accomplished Last Sentence
“All was well.”
Harry Potter had a really crappy childhood — parents murdered, unloving and abusive adoptive family, and — oh yeah — a dark lord of magic and all of his followers seeking to murder him. For seven books readers followed along this story and felt deeply that Harry would come out ahead — safe, loved, protected — but we never really knew it for sure until JK shared these three simple words: “All was well.” With that simple send-off the reader could shut the book and exhale, realizing all at once that was all we needed to know. We could be okay with an unknown Potter future as long as we could believe that, in the end, all would be well for our protagonist.
The Character-Focused Last Sentence
“He [Atticus] would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
The final sentence of To Kill A Mockingbird leaves the reader with an image of the unshakeable character, Atticus Finch, in his role as protective father. The reader is left knowing with full certainty that Atticus will stay there all night because that is what is in his nature. This sentence hearkens back to a point earlier in the story when Atticus waited outside a jail to protect Tom Robinson from a lynch mob, so it leaves the reader with a very clear message about who the narrator deems the hero of this story.
The Theme, In A Sentence Last Sentence
“We are stronger than we think.”
While one can argue that most last sentences tap into the larger theme of the story it concludes, in the case of I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly the last line declares, quite literally, one of the major themes of the entire story. It is simple, powerful, and gives readers pause upon reading it.
The Full Spiral Last Sentence (AKA – The Sequel Prepper)
“I asked Argus to take me down to cabin three, so I could pick up my bags for home.”
Upon reading the last sentence of the first book in the Percy Jackson series I was reminded of the last sentences of the first bunch of Harry Potter books. They all feel like our protagonist has come full circle… almost. So in this last sentence of The Lightning Thief we see that Percy is heading back home, which will bring him back to a place and circumstance(s) similar to those where we first met him in the beginning of the book, BUT the mention of “cabin three” reminds the reader that Percy now has a place in a new community which can never be taken from him.
These Endings Are Just the Beginning
This was, by no means, meant to be an exhaustive list of last line types. Do you have a fav that served a fantastic purpose you’d like to discuss? Let me know in the comments below.
My Last Sentence
In the meantime, this whole discussion was inspired by a prompt. A prompt that asked me to come up with a last sentence. Well… I finally did. Here it is:
I watched the butterfly escape the spiderweb and I laughed.
Any thoughts about what kind of story this might be concluding? I have some thoughts of my own, but I’m curious to hear about your impressions from just one concluding line. Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!