how to write an epilogue that works

How to Write an Epilogue That Works

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.

Video Transcription:

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.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland's monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.
Email:
About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I’m intrigued now by How to Buy a Love of Reading.

    Once we dig out of this blizzard, I’m going to the bookstore!

    Thanks.

  2. It’s an interesting book, to be sure, but not for the faint of heart. Part snarky parody, part biting social commentary, part witty meta-fiction, part beautiful lyricism – this book isn’t going to be for everyone, but its sheer audacity in the unique department and its brutal honesty make it a story I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

  3. Sounds like my kind of book, Katie. BTW, you’re doing a fine job with the vlogs. Keep up the good work!

  4. Thanks, Maggie!

  5. Interesting… I’ve heard different points of view on whether to write an epilogue or not, and to me it seems it depends on what your genre is.

    I seem to see a lot of writers in the mystery genre that write epilogues. Some authors, like Janet Evanovich and J.D. Robb, use them, but not in every book. Others use them routinely. Usually, as you say, they use them to tie up certain things, and in some cases (as in certain Evanovich epilogues I’m thinking of), hook you into the next book.

    In my WIP ‘Homebody’, I have an epilogue. But, the only reason I have it is because I left a few loose ends that needed to be tied up that I couldn’t get done before the murderer was caught. Also, as I go on to revise, I think the epilogue will hold more importance in the overall character arc of my main character.

    Loving the vlog!

  6. I do think epilogues can take on an entirely different angle in series. They become rather like “previews” for the next installment.

  7. The girls at If You Give a Girl a Pen have awarded you with the Sunshine Award.

  8. Aw, thank you so much! You’ve made my day.

  9. I love my epilogue in my novel. It was fun to write and has the perfect tone (at least, I hope so). :0) Epilogues don’t always work. They aren’t for every story. But they can are a lot of fun!

  10. I’ve never written an epilogue. My WIP may end up demanding one. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

  11. I haven’t even thought about whether I would be doing one. I know people have told me they want a little more of my book, but I want it to stop. I want them to wonder. I am so with you about distracting from the story itself.
    Great post!!

  12. Bottom line: only the author knows what’s right for his story. And if the epilogue feels wrong for you, I’d definitely skip it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    im confused

  14. Anonymous says:

    wait so if you were to wright an epilague is there any way it could be wrong or is it all your opinion?

  15. Ultimately, this is my opinion. But, as evidenced by the multitude of non-epilogued stories, the epilogue needed far less often than not.

Speak Your Mind

*