If you’ve ever asked yourself “what is an epilogue?”, you’ll need to first learn a little about the different sections of a book. This is especially true if you are a writer or a wanna-be writer because you’ll need to become familiar with all aspects of writing in order to be successful.
The Basics of a Piece of Literature
Most novels have various sections for people to read and these include:
- A prologue, which is found at the beginning of a book and is used to capture the interest of the readers and draw them into the story.
- A foreword or afterword, which are written by the author from the author’s perspective and usually revolve around how it came about for the writer to write about this particular topic.
- An epilogue, which comes at the end of the book and is usually there to bring closure to the story. Epilogues are usually used only in fictional novels.
The epilogue works as a finishing touch to the story and provides the reader with a great way to close that story and reflect on what he or she just read. Epilogues should never replace the actual ending of the book but they are great for providing a grace note to everything that was just read.
The Importance of the Right Epilogue
At one point, especially when it came to plays, the epilogue was used to explain the fate of the characters after the play was over; however, this is rarely the case. Before you attempt to write the perfect epilogue, let’s talk about the difference between an epilogue and an afterword. These are the basic differences:
- The epilogue ties up loose ends that could not be tied up within the story itself.
- The afterword discusses how the idea for the book came about, the inspiration used to write it, and more.
In both cases, the information can be written by the author but this is not a necessity. Many times, the afterword and even the epilogue are written by experts or even public figures. Another purpose of an epilogue is to set the reader up for a possible sequel and it can also add some insight into what happened once the main plot was done.
When writing an epilogue, you don’t want to include everything about the minor plots and characters. You want enough to answer a few basic questions and pique the reader’s interest to read a sequel if there is one but you should never go overboard. The reverse is also true because you should never leave a huge hole at the end of the story.
Getting Started with the Right Epilogue
Writing an epilogue isn’t difficult if you know what to do and why it is there in the first place. First of all, there are a few “do”s and “don’t”s when it comes to the epilogue and they are described below.
When writing the epilogue, you DO want to:
- Set up the series. In other words, let the reader know what is going to happen soon in the characters’ lives. This gets them looking forward to a sequel but if a sequel is your goal, you have to plant the seeds early on in the story. You want them to look forward to that sequel!
- Give a nod to the theme of the book. The epilogue can provide another point of view or perspective but if you’re going to do this, make sure that you do so without disrupting the overall tone of the book.
- Enhance the characters and therefore their futures. Make sure that you let the readers know not only what happened to the characters once the story ended but also how the story impacted their lives.
- Release any tension that the readers may be feeling. If the characters experience turmoil in the book, the epilogue can give them a respite from that turmoil. It doesn’t mean that there always has to be a happy ending; it is just a way for the readers to exhale and relax after reading the book.
There are also things that you should NOT do and these include:
- Trying to make up for a weak story ending. If the ending is weak, work to improve it. Don’t rely on the epilogue to fix all of the problems within the book.
- Provide unnecessary or extraneous information. Realize when there is nothing left to say after the book is written because providing too much information about the characters is not what the readers want. If the readers don’t feel as though they understand the book better, it shouldn’t be in the epilogue.
- Leave nothing to the imagination. Don’t try to tie up every single loose end with your epilogue; there should be a few loose ends left alone. You want the story to live on but you should also keep the information succinct.
If you’re working on the story and you’re still wondering if you should write an epilogue, just answer the following questions:
- What should I include in the epilogue? You have to decide which things to mention in your epilogue and which things are better left unsaid.
- Just what is an epilogue? Again, you have to know exactly what an epilogue is before you decide if it’s right for you.
- Is there something else that should be said about the book? If the readers are left with a sense of closure, it is possible that you won’t need an epilogue.
- When should the events in the epilogue happen? You have to decide if you want the events to happen right after the story ends or many years down the road.
- Should I write a happy or sad epilogue? Not all stories have a happy ending and this should be reflected in your epilogue.
- Is there something that the readers have a right to know? You should decide what the readers should speculate about and what they deserve to know about the characters.
Remember that an epilogue isn’t a necessity. Some stories scream for one while others do better without one. It is up to you to decide whether or not to write an epilogue for your story because you know your book better than anyone.
How to Write an Effective Epilogue
Once you decide that your book needs an epilogue, you have to know how to write one. This is not as complex as it seems, although it is imperative that certain aspects are not overlooked or forgotten. Here are a few steps to take when you wish to write an epilogue for your book:
- Decide on the type of epilogue you want. Do you want it to tie up loose ends, prepare the readers for a sequel, or help readers discover the fate of the characters? This is an important thing to know before you start writing.
- Write down at least two or three events that you consider important to include in the epilogue. Devise an outline with these key events so that you don’t forget any of them once you start writing.
- Study great examples of really good epilogues. These include the epilogues in Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. In other words, learn by example.
- Look at the climax of the story and write about the consequences or results of that climax. For example, if a certain character dies in the book, discuss in the epilogue how that death affected the other characters.
- Include important details that are not included in the book. If a character is pregnant or ill in the book, use the epilogue to let the readers know what happened to that character after the story ended.
- Take the reader into the future if this is the goal of the epilogue. Again, a happy ending isn’t necessary but it can be fun to devise an epilogue that lets people know what happens to certain characters, both major and minor. If you decide to use the epilogue to set the readers up for a sequel, concentrate on this task instead.
- Always keep the epilogue succinct and to the point. Don’t include any “fluff” or even too many details. That is not what the epilogue is there for.
- When you’re done writing the epilogue, read it aloud and try to get some feedback whenever possible. This is a great way to make sure that your epilogue makes sense and does what you wanted it to do.
- Above all else, make sure that your epilogue continues in the same tone as the rest of your story. Readers will notice immediately if it doesn’t!
It takes time and effort to prepare for and write a great epilogue. It also takes practice. Because you will often write the epilogue before or way after the book is finished, it may be difficult at first to keep the epilogue in the same tone as the book but you can do it with a little practice. Just keep in mind the reason why you’re writing the epilogue and make sure that you write down all of the details before you start writing.
Examples of How Others Have Written Their Epilogues
There are hundreds of examples of great epilogues from both experienced and amateur writers so you won’t have to look far if you want to learn more about them. Both famous and infamous writers have included some great epilogues to their books and below are a few ways that writers have done this:
- To provide closure. Sometimes stories scream for more information and if you feel the need to provide closure to one of your characters, the epilogue is a great way to do so.
- When readers need to be reassured and to know the characters will be alright in the future.
- When you want to describe one single event that you consider an important afterthought to the book.
- When you’re not interested in wrapping up the story neatly in the end.
- When you want to answer the questions that you know the readers will have after they read the story, especially if they want your characters’ lives to go on when the book ends.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Epilogue
Asking yourself what is an epilogue and how do I develop a good one are easy questions to answer, provided that you are familiar with a few of the basic tips and details. Before you start writing your epilogue, keep in mind the following important tips:
- Decide where you would like to pick up the story. You can choose to write about what happened immediately after the story ended, ten years down the road, or much longer than that, although it is best not to go too far into the future.
- Don’t change the tense of the story. If your story is in first person, don’t write the epilogue in third person. You want to keep the basic tone and nature of the epilogue the same as the story.
- Consider using another type of structure. In other words, if your book has a narrator and ends with a short speech, you can use a poem or other form of writing as your epilogue.
- Make sure that your epilogue is short and to the point. After all, you’re not writing another novel! Your epilogue should never be too long.
- Make sure that the epilogue is in a completely different section. An epilogue should not look as if it is a part of the very last chapter. It should be separate and distinct.
Some Final Thoughts
Writing an epilogue is not a must but if you are going to write one, it is good to know a few essential rules and tips for doing so. The epilogue is there for numerous reasons and deciding why you want to write it in the first place is the first step in making it efficient. Many readers of fiction look forward to the epilogue of a book so it is good to know what it takes to make yours great.