Lines To Leave Us Hanging


CLIFFHANGERS ARE ENTICING (photo by William Lord Wright, Photoplay Writing, New York City: Falk Publishing Co. 1922)

How do you choose a book? Often by the first few lines right? They either grab you or you move on to the next book on the bookstore shelf that catches your eye.

But what about last lines throughout a book? Those lines that complete a scene, chapter, or THE END itself that propel you to turn the page and read on, or that keep the story alive in your mind long after you’ve finished it. I have to admit that I am one who always flips to the back of a book and reads the last line before I buy. Do you?

I have one friend (a writer of course!) who studies first lines. She roams a library or bookstore and randomly selects books to read their first lines then dissects them based on how drawn in she is. Did it grab her attention? Did it raise a question? Did it introduce the main character? And most importantly, does she want to keep reading?

Those first lines. They either grab you or they don’t. As writers, we only have a few seconds to impress readers enough so they will buy our book.

Last month we had two fun posts on favorite first lines and last lines in a book, which were timely for me as one reader of my new release this month, A Hidden Element, typed up the last lines of each chapter and sent them to me. She was thrilled how each line ended on a cliffhanger and kept her reading – and she thought they revealed the premise of the story when all linked together. I thought I’d share.

Here’s a sampling from A Hidden Element:

He remained inside his dark prison and swore someday he would end his father’s rule.
Revenge filled Charlie with a sweet rush.
He could live with that, if only he could be a father to his sons.
The old fear hit him again in the gut.
The words shattered through him like hammer to glass – not from Earth.
He was empty inside, as he had always been.
The first stone flew.
The scars of Rachel and his sons seared his heart forever.
He was just a kid suddenly terrified of his own dad – and his own destiny.
The flagellation began.
After fifteen years the nightmare had begun – again.
Change was coming.
They marched on toward a hidden enemy who watched – and waited.
Killing was useful in so many ways.
The dark took her anyway.
She would do anything to save her family.
And that scared him more than anything.
She welcomed Death, but he did not come for her.
The nothing took him.
She didn’t want to ever let go.
She screamed and ran into a darker hell.
The last thing he remembered was being dragged across cold stone, the wintry air on his face.
And it was not of this Earth.
He drifted away in it.
He looked up at the open door that welcomed him.
He stepped toward his future.

Would you keep reading? Do these last lines in a chapter linked together tell a story to you?

And what about our last lines in life? They are the final cliffhanger words we utter for those we leave behind to wonder about. Could our last line reveal who we truly are and the kind of life we’ve led?

Here are some cliffhanger last lines from famous folk:

I have not told half of what I saw. –Marco Polo, Venetian traveler and writer.

Now I can cross the Shifting Sands. –L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz. The Shifting Sands are the impassable deserts surrounding the Land of Oz

Don’t disturb my circles! Archimedes. Greek mathematician who was killed by the Romans, while proving geometric theorems in the sand before him

Dammit…Don’t you dare ask God to help me. – Joan Crawford to her housekeeper who began to pray aloud

Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies. – Voltaire when asked by a priest to renounce Satan

Friends applaud, the comedy is finished. –Ludwig van Beethoven, composer

I’m bored with it all. –Winston Churchill, statesman

Goodnight my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow. –Noel Coward, writer

I must go in, the fog is rising.  –Emily Dickinson, poet

Let us cross over the river and sit in the shade of the trees. –General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

I die hard but am not afraid to go. –George Washington, US President

Get my swan costume ready. –Anna Pavlova, ballerina

Go on, get out – last words are for fools who haven’t said enough. –Karl Marx, revolutionary

Why do you weep. Did you think I was immortal? –Louis XIV, King of France

I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark. –Thomas Hobbes, writer

It is very beautiful over there. –Thomas Edison, inventor

All my possessions for a moment of time. –Elizabeth I, Queen of England


Do you think any of these last lines tell the story of the person in passing? Would their life story resonate with you? What will be your last line?

3 thoughts on “Lines To Leave Us Hanging

  • Norb Vonnegut

    Donna, I love this post. I heard Ken Follett speak at Thrillerfest one year. He said that he puts all his time into the opening of those story, then the closing, then the opening of each chapter, and finally the closing of each chapter. At the risk of sounding flip, that sounds like the entire book to me… 🙂

    I personally think there’s nothing more important than the last line, your last opportunity to leave your thoughts with readers…or perhaps your emotions. I just sent a novel to my agent yesterday. It ends with this line:

    Which means: “Yes, Mr. Chen. Boyfriend.”

  • Donna Galanti Post author

    Thanks Katherine – this reader is inspiring me to go through a couple fave books and connect the last lines of chaps to see if they thread a story – and it got me thinking about the last lines we leave this world with. I’ve never looked that far ahead – what would I say? what would you say? If we had the chance to make a final statement.

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