If you were writing a book, after tens of thousands of words, possibly over a hundred words, would you care what would be your last word? And if you did, what would it be? Or perhaps, more realistically, what wouldn’t it be? Or maybe what wouldn’t it be along the lines of? I would never have cared before today, because I had never thought of it. However, I got an unintended prompt a few days ago that, from now on, I will commit to caring.
I was listening to an episode of a podcast I really like called Cautionary Tales, by Tim Harford. Tim describes the podcast this way:
We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable life lessons, but these Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups – and they are all true. Tim Harford brings you stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, daring heists and hilarious fiascos. They’ll delight you, scare you, but also make you wiser.
That’s a pretty good description of it, in my opinion. However, today’s episode, the one I’m referencing, isn’t the typical episode. In this episode, called The Data Detective, Tim reads from the last chapter of his new book of the same name. It’s a great chapter about how being a good data detective to make sense of data you come across, or read or hear about, all comes down to being curious about the data, from its biases to sources to reliability, and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it until the last word, which I suddenly realized was “stop”.
For all my love for data, analysis, curiosity, and all, I immediately forgot about all I had heard and thought, now that’s an appropriate word with which to end a book! Writing and its craftsmanship is really seeping into my psyche after just a month of writing at least 500 words everyday, though I haven’t posted every night’s writing due to some being reserved for competitions that can’t have been published anywhere, including on a blog. That, or maybe because I had recently listened to an episode of another podcast I liked a lot, called No Stupid Questions, where there was a discussion on which mattered more, the first or last impression? Spoiler alert, “peak” impression is the one that tends to have the longest lasting impression. It just sometimes coincides with the first or last impression, or that the first or last is sometimes significantly more remarkable than the other, in content and/or due to the scenario or situation. For a book or story, of course, the first or last word alone in a book wouldn’t have this level of impact. It’d have to be at least the ending and starting paragraphs, if not entire scene. Yet, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a book, maybe even short story, start and end with a symbolic word for the story? Maybe a not so punny play on words that’s a bit more serious and mature than cheeky wordplay?
That was when I committed to trying to make my last word, as well as first, more deliberate, as a feature of my future writings. I’ll do that for my more serious writings, at least, because I won’t often have that much time to pore over that sort of details in these almost daily warm-up writing exercises before I get to my more serious writing. For my writings here, and just generally, I’ll just try to avoid ending in words I can’t write something like a little school essay about the word being related to the story somehow, as if some zealous fan dramatically overreaching for subtle and hidden meanings in my work. Well, it’ll give anybody who might ever analyze my writing something to think about, whether or not I had any less than obvious intentions for my last word of choice.
2 thoughts on “Words to End a Book With… or Not”
I’ve written a few novels, and I have to say I didn’t really care what the last words were, lol. I just saw the ending as a whole.
That would be my priority, for sure. But I like the added challenge of the last word, though more practically, I’ll probably embrace it as the last sentence, the way I like to think of a dramatic first sentence to open things. Thanks for sharing!