In this week’s video, learn how to write an epilogue (and avoid its fatal flaw) by studying Tanya Egan Gibson’s How to Buy a Love of Reading.
Epilogues, like prologues, are, by their very definition, extraneous. And, as a result, they’re often unnecessary. Too many epilogues are self-indulgent happily-ever-afters by authors who want to make sure the reader knows everything that happens to the characters after the story. But the fact is: if it happens after the story, then readers don’t need to know. And if they do need to know, then your story likely ended too soon.
Most stories aren’t intended to tell every detail of a character’s life. A story is just a snapshot, a set period of time chosen and extracted from a character’s life because it offers an inherent dramatic arc. Inserting what is essentially a footnote after the story, telling the reader what became of the characters, often serves to distract from the point of the story itself, or water down the effect of the ending.
There are, however, exceptions. In her debut novel How to Buy a Love of Reading, Tanya Egan Gibson utilizes her epilogue to provide closure for readers and characters alike. Her epilogue works for a number of reasons, most notably because it was necessary. Because her book proper ended on a tragic note, the reader needed a glimpse into the future of the characters to be reassured that they were going to be okay, that they recovered from the tragedy, that they moved forward with their lives and became better people because of what happened during the story.
Instead of offering a pat summary of extraneous post-story events, Gibson’s epilogue presents a single dramatized scene, in which she masterfully avoids tying her story up in a neat little package, but, instead, manages to both answer the reader’s salient questions and still leave them with a sense that the characters’ lives will continue after the back cover has been closed on the story. If we want to create fiction that lives, this sense of continuation should be a key factor when considering whether our stories require epilogues.