Writing Epilogues 101

What is the value of an epilogue? How do you know whether or not you need one? Is an epilogue ever necessary? Let’s discuss…

First, an epilogue is the very end of a novel. It is the last chapter set apart from the rest. Why is it set apart? Could be for a few reasons:

  1. It takes place in the near-to-distant future.
  2. It’s told from a unique perspective not seen in the bulk of the novel.
  3. It provides closure that could not be squeezed into the previous chapters.

Does your story need an epilogue? Well, that depends on whether you were able to wrap up all the necessary components of your story in its current timeline. If you think readers would appreciate a glimpse into the future after all the conflict is resolved, an epilogue is the perfect place to showcase that.

Epilogues can also show up in a series, and not necessarily the final installment. For example, if you would like to hint toward something coming in the next book, you can do this in the epilogue, most appropriately from a POV outside the protagonists’.

If your book is packed with action and intrigue, and your main conflict has been resolved by the end, you could write an epilogue to address any lingering tension. [Okay, so Timmy found the magic stone and saved the land of Ilgravia? Great, but what about his mother, whom he left back in Jaga’s Creek? Was he able to escape the tower once he returned the stone? Is he universally loved or hated? An epilogue could address all of these concerns from the POV of his mother, who welcomes him home after a long journey and updates him on the town gossip, while hinting at conflict to come.]

You can always hint toward future conflict even if your book is not part of a series. Allow your readers’ imaginations to run wild when the story is over. It can instill the idea in their minds that the characters will live on, and that their sacrifices meant something, as long as the foreshadowed conflict does not undermine the story’s conclusion. That would make the struggle feel meaningless.

An epilogue set in the future can offer a glimpse into the protagonist’s life after the battle has been won. Are they still dealing with the trauma? Are they happy? Was it worth it? What lessons did they learn in the aftermath? As a reader, I enjoy epilogues where I can jump ahead and see how the conflict affected the protagonist in the future, or even how it affected future generations.

How can you write an effective, impactful epilogue?

  1. Set it in the future when the world/characters have somewhat settled after the conflict has ended.
  2. Address core themes in the narrative and consider what lessons have been learned. (This doesn’t need to be spelled out. You can be subtle about it.)
  3. Write it from the perspective of a character who has not had a voice in the story thus far. Give the readers a unique POV -or- show the readers what the future looks like from the protagonist’s perspective. Do they have any scars? How heavy is the burden they still carry? Does the villain still haunt their dreams?

You can usually tell whether an epilogue is necessary when your story doesn’t feel complete without one. Either way, they can be interesting and add depth and value to your story. Don’t use them to drop a shallow summary of what came after. The most hard-hitting epilogues are ones that show the impact of your story on the world and characters.

Got any tips that I’ve missed? What is your opinion on epilogues? Has an epilogue ever made a lasting impression on you as a reader? Leave a comment below!

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