Thursday, 25 August 2011

What's red and worries ovine writers?

08:25:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device 1 comment
As Shaun pointed out on Monday, there is something special about the
last line. Be it the last line of a poem, a joke or a novel, there's
a huge emphasis on the how the words end. Creepy folk such as Derren
Brown will tell you that the words at the end of an utterance will be
remembered more easily. The advertising industry relies on these
aspects of our nature to remind us to consume with glee before all the
sad pandas arrive to force us down holes with the angry foxes.

I will often decide how I feel about a book after I've finished the
last page. I may have been enjoying the story all the way through but
if the author finishes with mundanity (fading to grey) or remembers to
cram in some ripping philosophical arguments as an afterthought (maybe
that's all it takes to get shortlisted for the Booker Prize?) then the
reviews will be as flattering as a wink from a feeder; as cruel as a
fox's eyebrow.

Just as a joke must end with two drums and a cymbal, so a poem must
end in strength. This can mean a continuation of a pattern if the
form's the thing or a neat summary that adds insight and clarity to
the whole if content's where it's at. Sometimes, in the spirit of
circularity, a return to the beginning feels right. Othertimes you're
stuck with a structure that means your last line reads:

When romancing the slovenly fox.

If this happens you have probably strayed into the thorny world of
comic poetry and that line constitutes a punchline. There is a crude
way to measure whether a final line is working. If a guinea pig (or
other well trained rodent) produces a quiet sigh (poignant response),
a wondering hum (broken reader) or a dirty laugh (DGP audience) then
the last line is about right. If your final words inspire glazed, faraway
stares, busy fingers (claws), furrowed brows or the expression
'lovely', you might want to find a large ewe to hide behind when the
waistcoated fox comes to call.


Ashley R Lister said...

Personally, I think the short-listing process for the Booker involves more than you're suggesting.

Several inches more.

Ash ;-)