How Should Your Memoir End?

When you (finally!) write the last chapter of your memoir, you have two decisions to make: at what point to stop writing, and what type of sentence will supply a fitting end to your story. I think the first decision is easier than the second.

If your memoir is more of a full autobiography, you’ll probably end it at the present time. If the story concerns one period of your life or just one episode of your life, you can either end it naturally when the time period or episode is complete, or you can jump ahead to present day and end with a sort of epitaph that lets the reader know how you feel about it now or how things turned out in the long run.

On her website Live Write Thrive, C.S. Lakin, author of The Memoir Workbook, writes, “You should end your story at the place where the lessons have hit home—when you’ve taken those epiphanies you’ve gleaned from your experiences and now use them to light the way forward.”

It’s tougher to settle on the one exact sentence to end your memoir that will feel satisfying to readers and, even better, stick with them a while. Last year, Buzzfeed asked people to submit great ending sentences from literature. Here are some from famous fictional works that strike me as instructive for a memoir:

After all…tomorrow is another day.—Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“Darling,” replied Valentine, “has not the count just told us that all human wisdom is summed up in two words? — Wait and hope.”—The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Now I understand that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.—My Ántonia by Willa Cather

But now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.—Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt. Amen.—The Color Purple by Alice Walker

These aren’t just sentences; they’re poetry. They’re poignant and thoughtful. You should craft every sentence in your book with care, but the final sentence is even more special. Take time to come up with something that caps off your story just right.