Want to learn how to write an epilogue that works? First, you need to understand why so many epilogues don’t work.
How Not to Write an Epilogue
Epilogues, like prologues, are, by their very definition, extraneous. 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.
The Inherent Dangers of the Epilogue
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.
5 Lessons in How to Write an Epilogue
In her debut novel How to Buy a Love of Reading, Tanya Egan Gibson utilizes her epilogue to provide closure (1) 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, readers need a glimpse into the future of the characters to be reassured (2) they are going to be okay, that they will recover from the tragedy, that they are moving forward with their lives and becoming 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 (3), in which she masterfully avoids tying her story up in a neat little package (4), but, instead, manages to both answer the reader’s salient questions and still leave them with a sense that the characters’ lives will continue (5) after the back cover has been closed on the story.
If you want to create fiction that lives, this sense of continuation is a key factor in considering whether a story requires an epilogue.