Unlike prologues (which I covered in last week’s post) epilogues are a much less controversial concept in the writing community. Everyone from J.K. Rowling to James Dashner uses epilogues to wrap up loose ends and generally give a novel a complete finish. But I would argue that epilogues are just as likely to be abused as prologues, and it is essential to write one only if your novel demands it. Do more details of “happily ever after” really merit an epilogue? Sometimes it is more powerful to let the end stand for itself, and allow readers to make guesses or inferences based on the text.
However, there are also times when an epilogue can be a powerful tool to enhance the reader’s experience.
Introduce a secondary point of view that sheds new light on the story.
In novels that are written from the perspective of one character, the epilogue can be a great place to add an additional layer to your story by giving another character a voice. In The Conjurors Series, I write exclusively from the perspective of the protagonist. I use the epilogues as an opportunity to show a nuance to the story, namely, how the villain of the series is pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Use it as a cliffhanger to encourage readers to check out subsequent books in your series.
I’ve seen highly effective epilogues in series that give a little peek into the next book. In the self-publishing world, writing a series is one of the most effective ways to build an audience that is interested in your writing. Epilogues are a great place to give readers an additional scene related to your current story that also has them asking questions that will make them eager to read your next book. I loved the epilogue in The Maze Runner by James Dashner because it not only introduced a new perspective – that of the enemy – but also revealed to the reader that the safety that the main characters believe they have found at the end of the book is false. To discover how they’ll survive, you have to continue the series.
Set your epilogue in the future – but only if you have something new to say.
All too often epilogues simply expand on the happily every after. For example, two main characters get married at the end of the novel, and in the epilogue they have a baby. In this case, slash the epilogue. The reader doesn’t learn anything new, and it can detract from the impact of your novel’s close. On the other hand, there are instances when new information from the future can be powerful and worth including. For example, the epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows gives readers closure for the characters they had grown to love by showing them as adults. Information set so far in the future makes sense to be separated from the main text, but is meaningful enough that it is worth including.