Last Words – Writing technique

Last night in screen writing class one of the bazillion handouts the instructor placed at each student’s desk read “Last Words”. He knows I’m taking the class to inspire my tired brain and not because I intend to write movie scripts.

As he started to discuss the topic, he turned to me. “You’ve heard of this in your writing classes, right?”

I glanced at the paper and said, “No. No one’s mentioned this particular writing trick.”

He seemed surprised. Usually when general writing topics are raised I know something about them.

This is what the handout was about.

These simple rules are about sentence structure and how to leave a reader/viewer with the clearest, sharpest image or idea after every sentence or line of dialogue.

1. Write the most important word at the end of every sentence.

2. Write the most important sentence at the end of every paragraph.

Change this

I could hear the whistle of the axe already.

Into this

I could already hear the whistle of the axe.

The power in a sentence comes at the end. The last word. You can feel it when a sentence is structured correctly and for maximum effect. Bam! It’s like a good joke. Until you hear the last word of the joke the joke isn’t funny!

The page was two-sided so it said a bunch of other stuff which I’m too lazy to copy.

Bottom line: The last word holds a lot of power. Don’t throw it away on just any old word. When you do it right, the last word really does say it all.

So. To all my writing buddies, friends and crit partners, do you know about this gimmick?? And if you do HOW COME NONE OF YOU EVER TOLD ME?? It’s a good technique.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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22 Responses to Last Words – Writing technique

  1. Sherrey Meyer says:

    Sue, this is one writing gimmick — I mean tip — I’ve never heard of but it makes a lot of sense now that I’ve read your excerpt from the handout. Thanks much for sharing. Looking forward to see if others have heard of it. 🙂

  2. I have never heard of that before, but I did like the sentence with ‘axe’ at the end better. I have nominated you for a subsequent Liebster Award. Go to this post to find out more:

  3. Juli Hoffman says:

    I’ve never heard of this one before, although it feels correct. I’ve heard the opposite: Make sure the FIRST sentence of every chapter is powerful enough to stand on it’s own. The first sentence should make a statement.
    *Examples of first sentences of first chapters:
    “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
    ~Mrs. Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf

    “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”
    ~Blood Rites, written by Jim Butcher

    “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day”
    ~Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte

    “Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.”
    ~The Poisonwood Bible, written by Barbara Kingsolver

    “The secret is how to die.”
    ~The Lost Symbol, written by Dan Brown

    These a just examples of books I had laying around. It’s even more interesting to go to a library or bookstore and randomly pick up books and read the first sentences. Some authors make a big deal out of the first sentence, some don’t. I suppose if you applied BOTH “gimmicks” to your own writing, each chapter would have pillars of strength. 🙂

    • Sue says:

      Juli! Delightful to see you!

      Yes the first sentence is very important. When I pick up a new book I read the first (and last) sentences. If I don’t like them I don’t read them.

  4. I never thought of it like that before, but it makes a lot of sense. Mmm…

  5. When character’s talk i always try to put the important part last – or the part that the next character is answering – that way it flows better, but past that I haven;t bothered thinking about it. I think too many gimmicks spoil the story because then one spends so much time making sure each sentence/paragraph is individually up to snuff that one forgets to worry about the story itself. 😉 I say writing is the most important tip.

    • Sue says:

      Hey thanks for the comment! Yeah the part that the next character is answering, good point. But by extension that’s the most important word. I did learn about stimulus and response in another writing class but never the particular gimmick I was told recently. And yeah so many gimmicks so many rules. But easy for you to say “just write” since you have 5 books (+) already published.

  6. I never heard of it either, but I’ll be trying to use it.

  7. Wow, I’ve never heard of it either, but I can see from the example how effective it is. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  8. Sue says:

    My pleasure. As I said maybe it’s a tool for screen writing but is useful for any writing

  9. This sounds familiar, but if I ever heard it before now, I don’t remember. It’s a good idea. When I look back at some work now (and as I write new material), I’ll definitely give it a go. Thanks, Sue!

  10. Wow! Nope, new one on me! 🙂

    Thanks honey xx

  11. VR Barkowski says:

    Never heard this rule, but it’s something I do naturally when I’m writing sentences. If I do end a sentence on a “weak” note, I’ll tag on a fragment for emphasis. I don’t employ the rule with paragraphs however. I avoid anything that could create a rhythm and destroy flow.

    VR Barkowski

  12. Sue says:

    which is why your snippets read so well 😀

  13. I’ve never heard of it either, but then again, I know very little about actual writing structure/rules/etc. I’m definitely more of a “if it sounds right to my ear, it works” kind of instinctive writer.

    I’m finally back on the Canadian west coast!

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