Last sentences this time. Stopping is harder than it looks, believe me. Some writers apply the brakes slowly (very slowly), others come screeching to a halt. Personally, I like both (although neither if they’re badly written).
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights: again, I had to learn this for an exam. I inserted it precariously in my short term memory: in my mind it goes: “I lingered blah, blah, blah and wondered how anyone blah blah unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
How it actually goes: “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 any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
George Orwell, 1984: “He loved Big Brother.” Awesome.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick: after such a calamitous time is had by all, the last sentence swallows all the tragedy up, spits it out, dusts itself off and carries on like nothing has happened: “Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle: memorably and mushily, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Then from some soon-to-be-classics:
Philip Pullman, Northern Lights: “So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.” There’s a certain symmetry to the first and last sentences of Northern Lights which is extremely pleasing. We like this.
J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Not quite so much success here (never mind that the whole last chapter is horrid). The last sentence reads, “All was well.” The penultimate sentence is, “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years.” Bring back the Dursleys!
Stephenie Meyer, Twilight: (didn’t want to ruin things by sticking in the last sentence of Breaking Dawn, you understand) “And he leaned down to press his cold lips once more to my throat.” ‘Oh,’ the reader thinks, ‘does he bite her?’ and, ‘when can I read the next one to find out?’
Marcus Sedgwick, My Swordhand is Singing: “Wait! I’m coming with you!” Incidentally, if you like badass vampire books and you’re sick of the romantic sap then read this one; it’s of the more chilling variety.
Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now: “And that’s how I live now.” Well, that’s one way to finish, with the title. Actually, that reads badly on its own (a bit like an old granny sitting with her quilting, with her glasses perched on the tip of her nose, saying, “and that, gentle listener, is how I live now.”). It’s better in context.
Scott Westerfeld, Peeps: “We’ve got your back.” Nice. Another less mushy vampire one, btw.
Laura Whitcomb, A Certain Slant of Light: “And when we kissed, the garden rocked, floating upstream.” Ah, lovely. A ghostly romance. For the record the first sentence reads, “Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.”
So, my fifty cents’ worth for writers: short or long last (and first) sentence; it doesn’t really matter, as long as you can justify every word, and it reads well on the page (and also out loud).