Friday, August 25, 2006

Famous Last Words


At the beginning of the course we looked at first lines and paragraphs, but of equal importance is the way in which an author wraps the whole story up. The last line is the memory that you leave with the reader.

“And they all lived happily ever after” is the classic last line. It’s not just a formula – it’s a reassurance and it sums up the theme of the story. In fairy tales, folk tales and romances the story is about challenging that happiness, and the reassurance for the reader is that all is well and will continue to be so after the end of the book. Jane Austen uses this theme to end her books.

The ending has to have a rhythm that sounds right and I think that Jane Austen’s books do have that natural final cadence.


There are various different ways to end a book and I’ve quoted some of them here just for fun.

THE END ending. Vanity Fair ends with the words – “and this is the end of the story.” This could be seen as very old fashioned but you could probably get away with it in a sort of post-ironic sense these days and people would find it very funny.

The summing up ending : “I lingered round them under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” (Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights)

The Plot-resolving ending “Cedric managed the whole thing quite beautifully. As soon as Polly had completely recovered her health and her looks he put Lady Montdore and Boy into the big Daimler and rolled away with them to France. The field was thus left to a Morris Cowley which, sure enough, could be seen day after day in the drive at Silkin. Before very long Polly got into it and was taken to Paddington Park, where she remained.” (Nancy Mitford Love in a Cold Climate)

The unresolved ending “He took off his cap and threw it, sent it skimming across the grass the way his father used to skim flat stones across the sea. Then he tugged the gun from his waistband, checked to make sure it was loaded, and moved towards the silent trees.” (Robert Harris Fatherland)

The tentative ending: “Tonight, for the first time ever, I can sort of see how it’s done.” (Nick Hornby High Fidelity)


The frankly bizarre ending “Yukiko’s diarrhoea persisted through the twenty-sixth and was a problem on the train to Tokyo” (Junichiro Tanizaki, The Makioka sisters)
Okay, so the last one probably wouldn’t do in a romance, but it does have the benefit of being original and different! Food for thought…

Happy writing!

Nicola

5 Comments:

Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Nicola, thanks so much for sharing your insights into the great Jane and romance writing in general. Actually, what your course has done is make me think I want to re-read the books (apart from Mansfield Park - don't think I could bear to read that again). It's also made me wonder if I'd like Emma better now that I'm a bit (well, a lot!) older. I always found the Mr Knightley/Emma thing a bit creepy but maybe I'd see it differently now. You also reminded me how much I love Persuasion and I'm well overdue to pull it down from the bookcase too. Happy writing!

12:56 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Thanks so much for the online course. You've certainly given me lots of food for thought, and like Anna, I now want to re-read JA's books (and read the ones I haven't yet got round to reading.) I don't think I could read Mansfield Park again though - I hated it! The heroine was far too good to be real.

By the way, have only just managed to read the last four posts of your course so it's been a bit of a crash course for me. For some reason, my blog display has been stuck on the 'Old Flames' posting since Tuesday and I just thought you hadn't had time to update it. (I imagined you frantically working on finishing your latest historical M&B). I only managed to get round this by re-searcing for your blog on the eblogger home page. And to think that I thought I was technically minded!!!

P.S. Thanks for the piccie of Colin Firth too. Mind you, I really liked Matthew Macfayden's interpretation of Darcy in the latest film version. The scene when he comes to Lizzy across the field through the morning mist has the same swoon-factor as Colin and the wet shirt scene...

1:34 AM  
Blogger Nightwriter said...

The course has been really thought-provoking and thank you for your time in putting it together. JA has so much to offer - both from a reading and a writing point of view - and there is much that can be learnt from her work.

As far as last words are concerned it has to be the happy ever after ending, leaving you with a feel good factor long after the story has ended and the characters have wandered off into the sunset! I always think a book is measured by how satisfying a read it is and without that sort of ending I always feel as though one important piece of the jigsaw is missing.

Looking forward to your next book ...

Best wishes

2:12 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience. I enjoyed your course very much, though it was interrupted by some true life romance in the form of my sister getting married on Thursday. I got back today to catch up on all your words of wisdom - all very thought provoking. It is always interesting to read other people's writing on Jane Austen and you've covered lots of different points, I hope there will be a part two some time.
I look forward to reading your next book too.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Christine Wells said...

A sadly belated thank you for giving us the benefit of your wisdom, Nicola! I've been wrestling with deadlines but I enjoyed the course very much. Off to try some of those techniques you discussed, and of course, to re-read the incomparable Jane! Best wishes!

3:13 PM  

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