Begin at the End

During the four years I’ve been leading writing workshops, perhaps no other prompt has been as effective as this one: giving participants a printed out list of evocative first sentences from published novels or short stories and inviting them to begin a piece of writing with one of these sentences. In fact, it’s been so effective that, in the past year, on this blog, I’ve posted three variations of the prompt (here, here, and here). And today I’m posting one more, with a slightly new take.

Instead of using evocative first sentences from published works, today’s prompt uses evocative last sentences from published works. And so, below is a list of seven different sentences that end seven different books (six novels and one work of nonfiction). The prompt is to use one of these sentences as the first line in a piece of prose or poetry. You can either choose the first sentence that jumps out at you. Or spend a few minutes with the entire list and choose only after you’ve thoroughly taken in each one.

1. His memory, like the world’s, was getting spotty.

2. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

3. It was not raining.

4. In the end they had to carry me to the infirmary and feed me through plastic tubes.

5. What’s gone is gone, that’s what I say, you have to keep looking ahead …

6. The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.

7. For some minutes, before she fell in to a deep, dreamless sleep, she just lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling.

Of course, if you’re looking to use this prompt in a workshop that you lead, you could certainly head to your own bookshelf (like I did) and steal some evocative final sentences from some of your favorite books or stories to use as recommended starting points in lieu of these.

And if you’re curious about the source of the above seven sentences, here are the books they end: 1) Hiroshima by John Hershey, 2) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 3) Molloy by Samuel Beckett, 4) End Zone by Don DeLillo, 5) The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño, 6) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, and 7) Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.


  1. tory meringoff says

    just dug through this whole site (#getlostonthenarrator) to find this…I could have searched but preferred not to…I know Derek posted this ages ago but it’s still one of my all-time favorite prompts of ever. What a great idea!!!

  2. Erin Hopkins says

    Thank you Derek for a whole year of exceptional prompts!