Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of Epilogues. That’s not to say they’re all bad.
In fact, I’ve ended several of my novels with Epilogues.
Done right, they can be a powerful way to leave your reader satisfied.
But beware! Approach your Epilogue wrong and you can ruin the end of your story.
So, let’s talk about what they are, whether you need one, and, if so, how to write one.
What Is an Epilogue?
As you might imagine, an Epilogue is the opposite of a Prologue, so it comes at the end of your novel as opposed to the beginning.
The word comes from the Greek epilogos, or “concluding word.”
It’s intended to provide closure and resolution, and it’s often set in the future to explain what becomes of your principal characters.
The questions are whether or why a novel needs an Epilogue.
I agree with many editors who insist that a story with a strong ending shouldn’t need an Epilogue.
Still, as I’ve said, not all Epilogues are bad. Done properly — and under the right circumstances — they complete your story and tie up loose ends.
So how do you determine whether your novel needs an Epilogue?
First, don’t mistake an Epilogue for an Afterword.
- An Epilogue ties up loose ends from the story.
- An Afterword focuses on how your novel came to be — largely to promote you and any of your other books.
The most important aspect of a good Epilogue is its purpose.
It should either show the reader what happens to your main character after the story ends (for instance, jumping ahead a few years and showing your character with a spouse and a child) or it should pave the way for a sequel or even a series.
One thing an Epilogue should never do is reiterate your theme or remind your reader the moral of your story.
If you didn’t accomplish that in the story itself, an Epilogue will not fix it.
Most importantly, after reading your Epilogue, your reader should leave satisfied, never confused.
What an Epilogue Should Never Do
- Leave the reader wondering what it meant.
- Compensate for a weak ending.
- Be long or complicated.
- Serve as a cliffhanger. You can hint at a sequel, but a cliffhanger will only frustrate your reader.
When To Use an Epilogue (and when not to)
As celebrated editor Allister Thompson puts it, “If there’s nothing else to say, don’t be tempted to say it!”
Look up these Epilogues online and compare them.
1: Moby Dick by Herman Melville
This Epilogue shows how you can use one to release tension. Moby Dick closes at such a frenetic pace, the Epilogue serves to reassure the reader that Ishmael survives the shipwreck and is rescued.
2: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This Epilogue is set 200 years after the story and focuses on a historian who reveals he found Offred’s story and transcribed the tapes.
3: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
This Epilogue provides a glimpse of Harry and his friends 19-years in the future.
4: Animal Farm by George Orwell
This Epilogue covers Manor Farm many years into the future. It tells the fates of the main characters.
How To Write an Epilogue in 3 Steps
Step 1: Set Your Epilogue in The Future
Provide space between the end of your novel and the Epilogue.
How long depends on your story. It may be a few days or hundreds of years into the future. The key is what you want readers to know about what’s become of your characters.
Step 2: Set Up a Future Narrative
An Epilogue can set the scene for a sequel. Tell just enough to make clear that more is coming.
Step 3: Don’t Forget Your Hero
If you’ve written a great protagonist, your readers will want to know what happens to him next.
1: How do I start an Epilogue?
The best place to start is the future:
- What’s become of your main character?
- Answer any other questions your reader might have
2: How long is an Epilogue?
As long as it needs to be, but the shorter the better.
Get to the point and wrap it up.
So Should You Write an Epilogue?
Most books DO NOT need an Epilogue.
Write a strong ending and you shouldn’t need one. But as I’ve said, at times an Epilogue can work. It’s your call, and that’s part of what makes you an author.