The Five-Fingered Wave of Lasts
Considerable importance is given to the closing of a novel, and rightly so. You need to wave your reader off, so they are left with a lingering memory of your story and find themselves thinking and talking about it afterwards. You do this by using the five-fingered wave of lasts.
1. The Last Chapter
As chapter breaks are the points where the reader would put the book down, in this context the last chapter is the final stretch which the reader would go through to finish the story, often just the last few scenes. This last section needs to bring the story to resolution, in whatever form you decide, and most importantly must finally answer those unspoken questions from the opening of the novel. Leaving threads hanging in the last chapter will leave the reader hanging with a lack of closure. That’s not to say you cannot end abruptly, but the subtext needs to be resolved.
2. The Last Scene
Much like the first scene, the last scene needs to have something happening. You cannot just tell the reader about someone, somewhere, something, or some idea. Whilst this scene will never work as a standalone piece, it still needs to feel coherent and conclusive. The reader must feel like they are reaching the end, and they do so through the characters. Make something happen and let the reader interpret your exposition through action. Remember: character, motivation, setting.
3. The Last Page
Strangely, some people read the last page of a book first. With that in mind, you need to make sure that yours isn’t just a dense and complicated description of how everything wrapped up. Much like your first page, this needs to be interesting and compelling, and almost a tease as to how good the overall story will be.
4. The Last Paragraph
This is your opportunity to give an emotional punch to the reader. The last paragraph should either ascend or descend in force, depending on how your story will conclude, and needs to be laced with emotion. Just as you are saying goodbye to writing the story, so too the reader is reaching the end of reading it. You want to leave the reader with at least one thought to consider, but you need to infer it through subtext.
5. The Last Line
This is your grand finale. The last line is that final gut-punch to send the reader on their way. You want it to be powerful, subtle, strong, and resonate with them well after they have closed the book, but just like the first line you do not have to be overly clever. Leave a lasting impression and your reader will transcend being invested in your book, and instead become invested in you as a writer.
Get the five fingers of the hand of lasts right and you will wave your reader away with new memories and a space missing where your story was so they have to tell other people about it. They will become emotionally invested in you, and go from reader to fan.
© 2019 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.