May 24, 2021 (Last Updated June 07, 2021)Lauren Groff
The epilogue has been a literary device since the times of Ancient Greece, when they were used in plays to offer commentary on the morals of the story. How do epilogues work in modern storytelling and the story you're writing? Here's what an epilogue should be, and how to use one in your writing.
What Is an Epilogue?
An epilogue is a section at the end of your book, that takes place after the main story has concluded. It's often used to show where characters are now, and what became of them. It ties up loose ends, so readers can be given a sense of closure.
What an Epilogue Shouldn't Be
Sarah Gardner, a book writer with State Of Writing and Paperfellows, thinks you should be careful when using an epilogue in your writing: “It's very easy to put one in and use it to compensate for a weak ending. Instead, it's just going to bloat the text. Instead, you need to be writing stronger endings.” It's true that they're not often used in novels anymore, as they're not seen as necessary. As Allister Thompson said, “If there's nothing else to say, don't be tempted to say it!”
A good epilogue should also never be vague. It’s okay to leave the reader wanting more, but you don’t want to leave the reader confused. There are some genres that lend themselves to epilogues, such as crime or romance. When using them here, they need to be clear about what they're saying. Did the characters get together in the end? Has the criminal remained free to strike again?
Finally, a good epilogue (usually) shouldn't be a cliff-hanger. Skilled writers can use them to set up for a sequel, but it needs to be clear in how it does so.
How to Write an Epilogue
If you want to use an epilogue in your story, you'll want to implement it carefully. How do you write a satisfying epilogue?
The epilogue should always be set in the future, as the aim should be to show what happens to your characters. It should contribute to character development, without bringing in new details that aren't relevant to the main story.
“You can answer questions in your epilogue, but don't go overboard,” says Darren Keys, an editor at Ox Essays and Essayroo. “You can offer a new perspective on the events of the story and give a nod to the themes of the story. Don't get into it too much though, as you're simply wrapping up the story.”
On that note, keep the epilogue as short as possible. If it's too long and winding, it's going to detract from the purpose of the epilogue itself.
Finally, if your story ended on a tense or ambiguous note, you could use the epilogue to break the tension. You don't need to write a 'Happily Ever After', but simply let the reader release the breath they were holding as they read the ending.
Examples of Epilogues in Literature
There are many novels out there that have epilogues, and they work really well. Check out these examples to see how they should work (spoilers ahead!):
The Handmaid's Tale: The epilogue shifts focus to a researcher who has listened to and transcribed Offred's tapes, calling them 'The Handmaid's Tale.' He ends the epilogue by asking 'are there any questions?' turning the focus onto the reader themselves.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: The epilogue takes place in the future, with Katniss older and a mother herself now. She wonders how she'll explain the events of the past to her children, showing that she's healing from the events of the books, but it will take time.
Moby Dick: In this classic, the book ends on a chaotic note. The epilogue assures the reader that Ishmael was saved by a passing boat and lived to tell the tale.
The epilogue isn't something that's used in every book, or even necessary, but it may serve a purpose in your narrative. Use it to release tension, show character development, and answer questions from the main story. Keep it short and sweet, and you'll be able to write a satisfying conclusion to your story.
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