The Last Song opens with Ronnie staring out of her window, remembering the installation of a stained-glass window over a month ago. She wonders if Pastor Harris is already at the church and thinks of how the beach had fascinated her younger brother Jonah during the summer. As she ponders these things, her silence is interrupted by her mother. Ronnie's mother encourages her to talk about what is on her mind, commenting that Ronnie has been mostly silent for the past couple of days.
Bits and pieces of information about the past summer are mentioned — a betrayal, an arrest, falling in love, turtles — and then Ronnie shares a newspaper clipping with her mother. The newspaper article tells the story of a church that was destroyed, presumably through the careless use of illegal fireworks. The aforementioned Pastor Harris was the man injured in the blaze.
Then Ronnie prepares to tell both her mother and readers about her summer.
The Last Song begins after the major action of the plot has already occurred, so most of the novel is actually told as a flashback.
The Last Song is told not only from Ronnie's perspective but also as a limited-omniscient, third-person narrative, with the perspective changing from chapter to chapter.
Ronnie refers to holidays in the Prologue, and she must mean Christmas — there is the mention of Christmas trees, as well as the fact that last month was November. This not only helps to establish the setting but also provides two important contrasts: the first is the contrast between this year and last year — it was last New Year's Eve when a fire destroyed the church; the second is the contrast between summer and winter.
Specifically, the novel is about Ronnie's maturation. Thus, it is a bildungsroman — a coming of age novel — about the moral and spiritual development of the protagonist, Ronnie.
In addition to providing background information, Ronnie's conversation with her mother builds suspense — one of the primary purposes of the Prologue. Ronnie admits that she was wrong, not only about her father but also about everything, but readers do not know what "everything" is, nor do they know what happened to her father. Although many things are mentioned, readers actually learn very little about Ronnie — they know that she is 18 years old, but know nothing of her love, her arrest, or even her father.
The Prologue also lists people who play a significant part in the narrative — Ronnie, Pastor Harris, Ronnie's father, Jonah, Kim, Blaze, Scott, Marcus, Will, Brian — and significant events, such as the fire and the turtles, without providing too many details. The Prologue raises more questions than it answers.
Unbeknownst to first-time readers, two important symbols are introduced in the Prologue. The first is the light shining through the stained-glass window. The physical light comes to have a second, figurative meaning, as Ronnie has metaphorically come to see the light, a Christian allusion. The second is a symbolic action. Ronnie's mother gathers her daughter's long hair into a loose ponytail. Ronnie admits that this is a comforting action, and it is an action that is repeated throughout the course of The Last Song and is used to develop Ronnie's character.
The Prologue serves as an introduction to some of the work's themes, such as faith, fate, love, and loss.
Additionally, Ronnie's feelings of confusion at the end of the Prologue express the emptiness people feel when bad things happen to good people.
Bottle rockets a type of firework
Reports indicate that the screenplay for The Last Song was completed before the novel. Did you already know how the two versions needed to be different? For example, fleshing more of the characters in the novel and changing the nature of the fire — did you know how these elements had to differ?
I've written screenplays before, and there is a difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel. Screenplays, in my opinion, are much easier. The structure always remains the same, and in a screenplay, you're allowed to "tell" not "show."
Most of the creative work took place while crafting the screenplay. By that, I mean the specific elements and actions within the story. When it came to writing the novel, I was essentially working from a long, detailed outline. Still, while I thought it would make the novel easy to write, the novel had its own challenges.
The novel, unlike many I've written, has multiple characters and shifting viewpoints. At the same time, it's important that each character "sound" different in the way they speak, each character had to see the world in different ways, each character had to have his or her own story, complete with a beginning, middle and end. At the same time, I was aware that my readers span the spectrum in age; thus, I did my best to make the novel appealing to all age groups.
Much of your fiction has autobiographical elements to it. How difficult was it to write with Miley Cyrus in mind?
It was less difficult than you might imagine, at least when it comes to "picturing" a specific actress. In the end, after all, I was writing a story about Ronnie Miller, not Miley Cyrus, and it was up to Miley to become Ronnie, not the other way around. Still, Ronnie Miller was a challenging character to create, if only because she was such an angry character at the beginning of the novel. While being angry, however, it was also important to make her likeable. That balance was tough to attain.
What elements of The Last Song are autobiographical in nature?
I have two teenagers, so I certainly drew from my own experiences as a parent in those instances. Will's character was drawn heavily from my oldest son Miles (who loves to fish and drive his truck in the mud), while Jonah is very much like my third son, Landon. Ironically, Steve, the father, was challenging because he was such a passive character. He's nothing like me at all.