That’s All, Folks


Personal family photo, used with permission

Any writer worth the ink in his printer knows how crucial the first sentence of his story must be, how perfectly constructed and seductive it must read. It’s this hello there that has to make our reader (agent, editor) suffer delirium tremens to get his hands on the rest of that first paragraph and the entire initial page and the whole of chapter one. No first sentence wowzer, and you have no purchase, no reader, no admirer, no nothing, nada, zilch, squat. Bubba, you just ain’t worth the sweaty socks on your computer’s mouse because you ain’t a writer.

If you’re still not sure, read – no, ingest, Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s one of the books I rest my weary head upon each night as I go sleepy bye, hoping to absorb more of his wisdom. It’s a book so highlighted, underlined, and filled with sticky tabs pointing out instructions of merit that the only words not notated on my copy in some way are and, the, to, for, with. I exchange my blood for this book, and it’s only one of many writers’ guidebooks that stack between my spine, holding me up.

But that title, The First Five Pages, brings me to the subject of this article. What about the last five pages?  What about who got in the last word of the story, and what, by the way, was it? Because if the first five pages and the first five sentences and the first five words, and if indeed even the very first word are all so important, why don’t we talk much about the very end of our stories? Doesn’t the end count? In every other endeavor, it’s only the end that counts. We know who won the race but very little, and frankly, my dear, we don’t even give much of a damn, about how hard that person trained. We just care about the shiny medal around the neck of the winner who stands on the golden podium at the end of it all. We know who won the Olympic medal, the Oscar, the Presidency, the war, the lottery. We know who became valedictorian at our high school (especially if we thought ourselves in the running,) if the surgery was successful (and it better have been), who got the job we wanted. Even if our memories of conclusions are entrenched only until the next event, we care about that final moment because it’s the one that makes a difference, or at least it does for a minute or two.

So why do we devote so little to the end of our stories?  I ask because I can think of a number, one too high to ignore, of published stories that were beautifully, excitingly written, books I couldn’t put down and skipped dinner to read (and if you know me, you know I don’t skip dinner), whose endings are fuzzy in my mind. The story captivated and exhilarated, but I can’t remember the end because the end seemed to slide down a long embankment to land under a scraggy bush. Won’t budge from there. I won’t mention the titles of those books because they are after all published books by well established writers, and I am not yet published. I hardly belong in their company. I won’t mention them either because you may not have read the books I’m thinking about, and spoilers have their own bunk beds in hell that I’m trying to avoid.

Other people who’ve read those books usually find the same ambiguity about the end of these stories, and we all wonder why. What happened? Are we readers supposed to fill in the blanks, assume we have the wisdom and required evidence to complete what the writer neglected to do? Did the writer just throw in the towel, finally so bored with his own work, so weary with re-writes, with perfecting the first sentence and developing the complex plot and unique characters, that he simply ran out of originality for the final act, and so plopped in the words The End on the bottom page and called it quits?

Some books have endings we will always remember. You know about The Lord of the Rings, and only because one of you may not have read the trilogy I will not tell you what happened at the end, but suffice to say it really wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I perched at the edge of my seat, wondering, not sure I knew which way I wanted it to go until, well, it went.  Well done, Tolkien. He knew how to write the first five, the last five, and all the other multiples of five in between, for three incredibly thrilling volumes that have held the attention of millions of readers for decades. Suspense all the way to the very last word. OK, I’ll tell you the last word right here so you don’t have to go look it up. The word is said. There, make up my bunk after all.

I always write the last chapter long before I complete my book. I know for my protagonist the order and choice of final words, the concluding context, the resolution or lack of it are essential to the whole of my story. The ending is important to me because it’s important to my reader. I spend a lot of time on last sentences. I want my work to be experienced as a whole unit, beginning to end. Something started, something finished. The final words must have impact, the locking clasp to my story. Or to put it another way: perfectly constructed, and seductive to the very last word. We have landed. Plant the flag.

There I am finally, at The End. At least until I begin the re-write.

Perhaps you and I will write that anxious book, The Last Five Pages.

Be well, friend.

127 thoughts on “That’s All, Folks

  1. You have a good point there…

    • Thank you, Debb, I’m glad you think so. Do you sometimes struggle with endings for your own work?

      • I believe so – I usually have in mind how I will close the piece, but I haven’t been taking painstaking care about the ending. By the way, I am not published yet either. 🙂

    • You’re thinking about all the right things. As for the final five pages, often, that’s a foregone conclusion. What you write up to that landmark points inevitably to a certain kind of ending. That’s why the threads and subplots that you weave in the middle must be well thought out. I know. I’ve just published a novel, and when I got to the end, I knew there was going to be a showdown, and the reader knew that, too, but you have to play with their expectations. The reader expects an immediate showdown, but I took a couple detours in which she almost self-immolated herself. Then at the very end, during the writing of it, I discovered an unexpected place for her to go, and it blew even my mind. After I discovered that (you have to be open to discoveries in the course of writing!), I had to go back and change some things earlier in the book. In a nutshell, an ending must be inevitable but at the same time unexpected. And that is truly an art.

      • David, I took a look at your blog. You are so passionate about your new book, and congratulations on the publication. You did tons of research on an exciting topic, and I wish you a large readership.

        Thank you for commenting about my post. Though it mostly addressed how poorly some published authors deal – or don’t deal – with the end of their stories, it also promotes the idea that those of us now writing must consider our endings as much as our beginnings. Thank you for offering great advice about how to do so and still be creative and open to a natural evolution within our stories.

        Again, the best with your new book.

  2. Thanks, I needed that! I’ve just opened my many files on a book I’ve been trying to finish for a few years. This is quite a timely and very useful message.

    • I hope this helps you complete your book, Adriene. Sometimes it’s just the reminder that you are so close to get you over the last hurdle. Please let me know when you write “The End.” I’m cheering for you.

  3. I love pretty much everything I have ever read by Arthur C. Clarke… except that I almost never like the endings. It’s actually become a joke in our house… because I talk about it a lot: it seems that in many cases, he gets to a certain page count or word count and says “Yep, it’s time to finish it now” and then he concludes the story with “And then they all laughed”.

    Clearly, that’s not the case with every one of his books, but it’s been enough of them that I now just assume I’ll be disappointed by the ending. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that I do, in fact, get very irritated by this trend of his, even though it isn’t as bad in reality as it seems to be in my head.

    I’ll add that endings are NOT a problem in the books I’ve read where he has collaborated — specifically the sequels to Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” (“Rama II”, “The Garden of Rama” and “Rama Revealed” — these sequels were written with Gentry Lee). Maybe he just doesn’t do endings well and his collaborators can take care of that tricky bit for him.

    I have heard that J.K. Rowling had the ending of the 7th “Harry Potter” book written long before she even started the 7th book.

    I don’t plan out my own writing, but sometimes I have an idea of where I want the story to end… and when I do have that ending, I can sort of guide my seat-of-the-pants word pudding such that I eventually get to that final five sentences or paragraphs. But I do find endings to be difficult, and many a story is sitting here on my hard drive… written entirely except for the ending, because I can’t seem to put the finishing touches on it without just making the characters laugh as they sip their lattes and head off into the sunset.

    Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Arthur C. Clarke after all.

    • Sorry, Rob, somehow my reply to your comment ended up sliding to the bottom. Oops! See below.

    • I have thought of that too – about Arthur C. Clarkes endings. Especially 2061 ended in nothing… or everything. Because, that is the problem with fantastic stories like those Clarke wrote: they easily spin off and out into a distant time where everything is incomprehendable to we mortals of today. So he just had to stop writing when reacing that point in the story. Or?

      • A book is spun of fiber existent in the brain of earthly mortals. Which suggests that the same creative brain can and probably should write the end of the story, even if it’s a cliff hanger meant to entice the reader to get the next book in the series. Writers who fabricate fantastic stories about worlds in far distant galaxies are still doing their work here on earth for the enlightenment and entertainment of human beings, not of space aliens. I can’t speak to Clarke’s particular dilemma but it seems that his non-endings have been noted by many people.

  4. I always feel let down when the ending doesn’t live up to the beginning. It’s like the author ran out of stea. I spent a dozen hours reading their book–for that?

    But that’s just me.

    • I agree with you, Jacqui. It ends up tainting my overall impression, when I might have otherwise heaped slavish praise on the book. And that’s an interesting way of putting it: a story must live up to its beginning, all the way to the end.

  5. Wow, Rob, you’re a dedicated waffler about Clarke! You love him, sort of. That’s kind of funny, but I can see what you mean. How interesting that you’ve noted the books on which he’s collaborated have better resolved endings. I would really like to know what it is that stymies writers whose corpus of work always suffers the same problems. Wouldn’t you think that Clarke would improve his craft over the course of writing many books?

    Do you think that really well regarded writers get a freer ride than if they were beginners or less well known? I’ve always wondered about that and I suspect it’s true. The movie star factor – can’t touch me. But for me, I have to write the very best I can, no slack, no iffiness. And, still, I do not approach Clarke’s mastery.

    • Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I’ll read any and all books Arthur C. Clarke has written. I just assume I will not like the end and that way I’m either pleasantly surprised when it isn’t bad, or not terribly disappointed when it is.

      Thinking about it, it may very well be a case where *I* don’t like his endings, but others think they are fine or even great.

      I do think that as with many areas of life, a track record of success breeds some amount of forgiveness if perhaps some project doesn’t go (or end) as well as usual. I think there is a limit to how much you can rely on that forgiveness, but I do think it is there.

      I think it is there even for those of us who are emerging writers, too. Not every short story I write is a gem. Yet, when I am writing and posting the stories to my blog on a consistent basis, people do keep coming back and reading, even if the last one they read was sub-par. But if I post a bunch of pieces in a row which the reader doesn’t like, they may choose to spend their time elsewhere instead of with me. It is important to remember always that not every written work will please every reader and in the end, we can all just do the best we can. And if the best we can do is make everyone laugh before the words “The End” appear, then that’s what we have to do, too.

      • “And if the best we can do is make everyone laugh” – – not a bad goal at all. Sometimes I want readers to think, or sigh, or even let a tear roll on by. A reaction is good.

  6. Yep, I had the last sentence written even before I was quarter way through my book. The first five sentences have been written countless times. I’m still not one hundred percent happy.

  7. OMG we have the same WordPress theme! That’s so surreal!

  8. I have no problem writing the end of the book because by the time I have gotten to the end I have rewritten it numerous times.

  9. I think it depends on the book.

    When I hear complaints about ambiguous endings, I can’t help but think of all the ambiguous endings that were done well. I just finished Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata and the last five pages leaves the reader wondering about a main character’s motivations throughout the novel. And, in all honesty, that’s the way it should have ended.

    Life is ambiguous. An author who gets you to think about ambiguous situations has succeeded if that’s what s/he was going for. Final impact can come from aspects other than plot.

  10. I am stuck at a little over the half way point … know my ending just not 100% how to get there *sigh*

    • Have you tried to outline your story and work from that? I’ve found outlining an effective method. Or try to write a detailed summary of your book that you can work from. Good luck.

      • no I haven’t actually, I did try to at the beginning but it wasn’t working maybe I should give it another go

        • It needn’t be a formal outline like we learned in school, but just a set of notes describing the basic actions of each chapter, the characters that will be in each along with settings and a general timeframe. The advantage of doing this is that it really does provide a useful foundation on which you can build your story. I was very resistant to the idea of outlining and found that the overall disorganization of the first story I wrote took hours and hours to straighten out. By the time I wrote my third book, which I began with a complete outline, the story came together more quickly with fewer errors in consistency and no down time where I tried to figure out what to write next. I describe my eventual conversion for outlining in a post called The Long and Winding Road which you can find in the archives on Today’s author. When something doesn’t work I’m all for trying a new strategy that might. Good luck to you.

  11. this is the first post i have read on your blog and let me assure you…although i am a very lazy person—and i read posts depending on their length, your first five words were captivating enough for me to have reached the ending—which too btw was just as you would have liked—great!to sum it up–i loved it!

  12. You had me at the title…and now I’m off to read your blog. BTW, the caption on the photo intrigued me too. No matter if I am the photographer, I always ask my girls, “May I?” ….

  13. I myself always have trouble with endings. I have a difficult time wrapping things up and saying ‘Okay, I’m satisfied.’ I’m definitely going to check out that book. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • Noah Lukeman’s book is outstanding, well organized and relatively brief. Such a wealth of info in a small book. Still, it really doesn’t address the particular issues of drawing a book to its close.
      One thing I consider when I write my final chapter is how the main character resolves the primary dilemma and how the journey has changed them. I don’t always tie up every loose end.

      • I think in finding the value in the first five pages may aide me in discovering a way to create the last five in a satisfying manner.

        • Very Insightful of you. Lukeman’s book hints at the same idea. If you pay close attention to all the aspects of story development as he describes, and if you are consistent in writing quality, you can’t help but to develop a compelling ending. And the end should close the circle begun on page 1.

  14. And I can see the effort you could have put to bring this up, in every sentence.

    Well written!
    Cheers… 🙂

  15. There is nothing I love more than a great ending. If the first five pages are boring I will forget I ever started reading it, but if the last five pages are not great I will always remember how disappointed I was.

    When I write I always start with the end. I know where I want to go. I just have trouble getting there.

  16. I agree with your ‘ending emphasis’ idea, sometimes people just want you to see the first pages of a book so that you could buy it. I mean, if you look to the end, you just spoil the whole story. Isn’t that correct? I usually reprimand these books… Sorry if this isn’t what you were expecting from a comment but I can definitely assure you, your post is just awesome! Are you an author of a book? Well you certainly are! 😀 LOL

    • I tend to believe that a book well written at the beginning may have confounded its own author by the end. Or maybe I choose to believe that, rather than a writer being motivated by greed. For most writers, their published work generates only modest income (and most writers depend on other employment to pay the bills) but it’s the passion for writing that gets the story on the page.
      I have written 2 children’s books and 3 adult, none of them (yet) published. But they will be, one way or another. Thank you for asking. Love your final comment.

  17. both the first few sentences and the rest that should only get better as you read on….

  18. Too often books and even short stories leave us thinking “But what about…”
    I always need to complete a story within itself rather than leave readers wondering.

  19. I’ve nearly finished my book, but it needs a massive re-write. -_-

    • It’s generally accepted that every book needs two massive re-writes after the first draft completion. In my case, I can’t count the number of re-writes I’ve done with my books, but I am satisfied that each makes the story better. Best of luck with yours.

      • Thanks! They can be very annoying. -_-

        • A very well known writer who read an early draft of my first adult novel suggested that I immediately begin my next. He had much to say about my book that was positive and he made useful suggestions. But what he told me to do in beginning the next book was great advice.
          I did begin adult book #2, and let the first one simmer for a bit. When I got back to book #1, it had been distant from my mind sufficient time that I had a fresh perspective on it and was able to address the next revision with enthusiasm.
          Maybe you should try taking a break from your story. Do something else for a few months, then get back to it. I hope this works for you and helps you get through the rewrite without feeling dread.

  20. I’m not a writer but love to read others’s works. Both the opening and closing does matter to the readers like me. I think both parts took so much time of the writer 😊. Nice post.


    • Kaye, you are the reason we write. Thank you for being a reader. We writers so appreciate you, and we love when you tell us what you like, what’s important to you. Thank you, thank you.

  21. The ending always seemed to me like the hardest part to write. It’s easier to focus on the beginning just because it’s the beginning, the natural starting point. But where do you stop your story? How do you resolve it? It’s tricky as hell.

    I’m not doing any fiction writing (I’m no good at it, at least not at the moment) but I have friend who do, and they definitely struggle with this. I can understand why.

    • For me, the ending is a natural evolution of the dilemma I pose for my main character. I always know how a story is going to end as soon as I write the first words. But where to stop a story, even when I have the ending down, is a trickier. Determining the very last words is a bit different from figuring out the end of the story. I want the final words to make my readers catch their breath. I want them to hold my book in their hands and feel something momentous has transpired. It might be surprise, or satisfaction, or even pensiveness. Maybe something similar, finding those perfect last words, is what makes your writer friends struggle.

  22. Congratulations on a great blog!

    I will not make jokes on “endings are just beginnings”. Instead I would like to point out that some novels are so catching, the reading of them so enjoyable, that I wish they will never end. Such novels always have bad endings definition. The only acceptable thing would be that they continued forever – it doesn’t matter how well constructed and reworked their endings might be.

    • That’s so true – any perfect ending can’t be if you want to read more. But all things, good and bad, must pass, and it leaves you with the task of finding the next wonderful book to read.

      Thank you for your kinds words about my article.

  23. I have nodded my way to the end, I have smiled too. It is true that the opening is the lifeblood of a book, evident by the zillion notations you have managed to put in that book, The First Five Pages, even if metaphorically. But the books I have loved most are the books that have ended remarkably well.

    • A provocative beginning, a resounding end. The best books have both, and excellent story in between.The hallmarks of a great book.

      Maybe I only have several dozen notations in Lukeman’s book. But it seemed like a zillion when I was marking them. LOL

  24. This is an interesting post and conversation. I fall into the camp of: If the ending doesn’t seem logical, I probably wouldn’t read too many of that author’s other books. I mean books that have endings out of left field. I typically read mysteries and the ending must makes sense based on the rest of the story. Don’t blind-side me with an ending that I couldn’t have possibly figured out because there were no clues. Give me a fighting chance to solve it. I want to say, “Ohhhh.” or “Aha!” I don’t want to say, “Where did that come from?”

    I’m currently writing my first mystery novel and I’m writing the last 1/3 now. I wrote the last scene several months ago. It’s not complete, but it’s enough that I know what I want the gist of it to say.

  25. Danielle, I don’t write mysteries. I could never figure out how to write a crime that would confound people until the bright ones finally unravel the incident and resolve it.
    But I sure agree with you. When the person who committed the crime is revealed to be someone who didn’t even show up until the last page – ugh! I am so irritated. And I also agree with you – it would probably be the last of that author’s books I would read.
    Let me know when your book is done – you know where you’re going, and it’s a good thing.

  26. Fantastic read and advice, thanks!

  27. I totally agree with you when you say that ending is important. A bad ending is the worst sort of repayment for all the time that has been invested by the readers! Best of luck with your own books. Am sure they will have good endings!

    • Isn’t it the truth that readers feel the investment of their time deserves the reward of an ending well conceived. I think writers would do well to remember that we must not waste our reader’s time. You stated that well.

  28. beautiful post, well written and pithey. Huge congratulations on being freshly pressed, well done

  29. As someone who writes only journalism and non-fiction, I am very aware, as well, of the power of those final words, or sentences. They have to leave reader with a powerful impression — of whatever mood you have created: rage, wonder, sadness, etc. In journalism, the final graf is called the kicker — for a reason!

  30. Caitlin, you taught me something today. A kicker – that is too perfect! Especially if you knew my personality a bit better.

    I agree that a really superb book will leave the reader with very strong feelings. No wishy, no washy, no mush allowed.

    I took a look at your blog and I will be back – lots to read and learn. Thank you.

  31. I just finished editing a script and I knew the writer was good when I read the ending. Great post on an important point.

  32. New to blogging and even though I won’t be writing fiction, I like your writing style and will pick up Noah Lukeman’s book! Plan to check out Caitlin’s blog.

    • Thank you for the compliment. Although Lukeman’s book is directed toward fiction writing, much of what he explains can be applied to other genres. Caitlin’s blog is a wealth of useful information for any blogger. You won’t be wasting your time with either.

  33. How often have I read a book with a thrilling story, lovely characters, a unique setting then I encountered an ending that was just “blah” – so disappointing! Such a waste of characters, setting and plot, when the ending does not match the rest. I could name authors, too, but I won’t, name dropping is a bad habit, isn’t it? Enough to know that those were authors who can do better and did so before and after. Authors I just expect to do better. Yes, they should take care of their endings, right you are.

    • I sometimes wonder why the editor did not get more involved when this happens, although we can’t know the behind the scenes activity. Usually I’ll read an ambivalent ending again to see if I’ve missed something subtle but often it will prove to be simply a weak ending. Yes, disappointing.

  34. Definitely – a fine ending in a book is an amazing thing. Conversely, a poor ending can ruin a whole story…

  35. I have my ending, I don’t as yet have the beginning. Maybe I need the ‘first 5 pages book!’
    Loved the blog and all the comments and congrats on being picked for freshly pressed.

  36. I would definitely recommend Lukeman’s book for you. As you seem to be at the beginning of your writing career, there are many good writing books out there. It’s very helpful to have good guides. May I also suggest Donald Maass, an agent who’s written several books. His most well known is How to Write the Breakout Novel.
    Thank you for the sweet comments. I am thrilled and humbled.

  37. Awesome write-up, enjoyed it thoroughly! Kudos! 🙂

  38. Keep on going and finish. I am sure you will find the right ending! I look forward to reading more from you!

    • I’m pretty good about completing my stories. Everything I’ve written has an ending that reflects a resolution to a dilemma presented at the beginning of the story and that requires growth or change on the part of the protagonist.

      I’ve never seen this topic about endings addressed by anyone else and decided it was about time, I should be the one.

      Thank you for your kind comments. I hope I live up to your expectations in the future.

  39. Great post! I’m the same way about the endings to my writings. I think it’s easier to build entire stories and essays around the last sentence. It gives more direction to a story.

  40. As an aspiring writer I very much enjoyed this and I’ll have to add the First Five Pages to an already infinite “to read” list. I’ll keep your points from this article in mind moving forward as well, thank you.

  41. i believe that the beggining needs to be interesting but the ending needs to surprize me in a good way, to prove that the life of the caracter has evol, has grow, even a little grow… I appreciate evolution, like the caracters have learned something

  42. To me, a great ending has an element of surprise and stays suspenseful till the end. I don’t want the final scene to be ho-hum, to be something I’m able to figure out. The main character must come to terms with some failing of his own, and in doing so, he (she) will not only resolve the big issues, but will grow and change as a result. The problem is resolved, the main character is redeemed. Evolution is a great way to describe this process.

    • Oops, sorry, Elena, I wrote that a bit incorrectly. I don’t want the reader to anticipate an ordinary ending to one of my books. As for the books I read, I like surprise, as you do. Sorry I muddied my original explanation.

  43. As a student and even later as a teacher, I hated the process of writing a research paper: find x-number of sources, write notecards, write outline, etc. I found it much more helpful to read and think and process, then begin writing with the end already in mind. Good way to live life, too, don’t you think?

    • Alain, are you referring to my comment to Jensine? She’s having difficulty with continuing her story, something I’ve heard from other writers. I’ve often suggested that folks in that quandary outline in order to create a path to completion.

      But I also hated those dreadful formal school outlines and that was not what I meant. A stepping stone approach, whether called an outline, a summary, or a storyboard, helps. It makes you set down each character’s next move and develop the next plot points. You can then flesh out the story from the small steps but you aren’t bound by any rigidity. For some writers, it’s good way to get unstuck. There are other options as well.

      As for how to live – I’m still learning. Processing events with calm and thoughtful consideration has proven better than explosive reactions. It’s something I’m still learning to do.

      • No, I hadn’t read through the comments. I agree that there are many ways to get unstuck. My son was telling me last night that he was so angry at his inability to write a paper last semester that he just started walking. More than 3 miles later, he turned around, walked home, and hammered out an “A” paper.

        I find that without knowing where I’m going (in writing and in life), I tend to wander way too much.

        I appreciate the conversation!

  44. I love the way you organized the topic. You expressed your thoughts perfectly and I absolutely agree with you.

    Thank You

  45. I feel like the first five pages have to be great to sell the book to an agent/publisher, but the last five pages have to be great so that it’s memorable to the actual reader down the line – most of us don’t remember how a book started, but we remember how it ended and the way the ending made us feel.

    • A book is certainly more memorable when the beginning grips me and won’t let go, but when it also takes my breath away at the end – that’s a story I will remember forever, re-read, and then seek other books by the same author. As for agents, I’ve been told they will consider a book only if the beginning astounds them. But we all know so many stories of writers getting rejected by dozens of agents only to finally publish a book that becomes a best seller. There seems to be a big difference between what an agent looks for and what readers want. Not sure I know either secret but I’m still trying to figure it out. And I always write the best story I can.

  46. Excellent post. Nothing so disappointing as getting to the end of the book you’ve loved reading for the last however many hours and finding yourself saying, “Is that it?”

    I’ve found in my extremely limited experience of writing that I actually have the opposite problem. I’ve just finished the first draft of my first novel and absolutely couldn’t wait to get to the ending and the plot twist. My issue was more giving enough attention to the main part of the story – honestly, there were times when I’d have preferred to have given people a synopsis of the story line, handed them the final chapter and said, “Ha! Did you see that one coming?”

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