First Impressions, Last Impressions

They say “first impressions matter most” in real life, but according to Chris Bohjalian, best selling author of 18 novels, in his interview with Jacquelyn Mitchard for Writer’s Digest, March/ April 2016 edition, “it’s the last impression that matters most in fiction.”

When we meet someone new in real life, we immediately form an opinion; “Is he competent?  Can she do the job effectively? Is he a nice, genuine person?  Is she smart? Boy, he has beautiful eyes, or wow, she has nice skin.” …  our first impression unfolds. Yet, within minutes, as details reveal hidden layers that illuminate the individual more clearly,  our first impression loosens, crumbling like the side of a mountain in the path of  surging water, falling in upon itself, reshaping into something different or new.  The details of dialogue, the soft clicks of the tongue making contact, the short pauses and long silences between spoken words thick with accent, like the twists and turns of the rapids, either strengthens the impression, reshapes it  or destroys it.

It is the way in fiction that the reader is introduced to the characters, then led through the tangles of the story, that the reader forms her first impression, grows it or discards it as she moves along toward the end.  Lisa Genova, the author of “Still Alive”, says in fiction, “there can be profound healing – acceptance, forgiveness, understanding, love.  I wouldn’t say that my endings are romantic or triumphant, but there are deeply human lessons hard-earned, ways of re-framing hopeless situations that are intended to leave readers feeling inspired and connected.  These characters are ultimately about living in the face of dying.”

Just as we do in real life.

And so, yes, first impressions are important, but in fiction, and in life, last impressions matter most.  Somewhere along the way, from the point of first impression to the last words of the story, intentions change, goals expand or fall apart, pain heals, innocents learn, sufferers forgive, people change, loved ones die, and stories change….

Therefore, regardless of the sorrows, horrors and pains in our stories and in our real lives, a great ending ultimately resonates.   It is the culmination of a person’s details and what he meant to those he leaves behind; – loved ones, acquaintances, students, the world.. that resonates with the rest of us once we turn the final page, closing the book for good as we find the strength and the desire to pick up the next book while keeping the last impression in our hearts.



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