So, today we’re discussing epilogues.
No, I’ve not yet written a post about prologues – and to be honest, have no immediate plans to do so. Epilogues interest me more right now, because I’m planning to include one in my WIP. Please note that said “WIP” was a reference to the novel Distorted Perceptions – published in 2020.
Some people believe that you shouldn’t use epilogues at all, and many feel this way about prologues, too.
I don’t share this opinion. However, both prologues and epilogues should certainly be used with caution. Ultimately, you will know, in your heart, whether you need one or both.
There are readers out there who routinely skip both prologues and epilogues.
I can’t understand this personally, as they’re part of the story.
There are definitely cases, in which the author might have done well to skip them, or at least scaled them down somewhat.
Incidentally, I don’t imagine that many people would be tempted to miss out on an epilogue, having cared about your characters enough to finish the rest of the book, even if the same readers might have lacked the patience to read a prologue – but, as I mentioned, I can’t really comprehend skipping any part of the book.
One instance where you might include an epilogue – and this applies to my own story – is following a time lapse: a gap notably longer than those used throughout the rest of the novel.
The passing of time wouldn’t be the only factor involved, but would be one consideration. The characters may need to be left to their own devices, for possibly six months, several years, or even decades. The exact period of time can vary greatly.
There must then be sufficient justification to re-join your characters.
Why could the book not have ended, as it was? You should be able to answer that. My novel commences in 1983, and ends in 1990 – but I show a glimpse of life in 1993, for my protagonist, Lucy, and a few other central characters.
Is there a need for closure, beyond the last page of, as it were, the main story?
Maybe you need to show that there’s hope, beyond tragedy – or struggles, beyond the seemingly “happy ever after” aspects of the story’s climax.
In fact, all of those apply to my own work, as complex and contradictory as that might sound.
Another reason for including an epilogue is to emphasize the novel’s underlying theme, in some way that couldn’t be fully achieved, during the course of the main plot.
As well as considering why you should include an epilogue, think carefully about the possible reasons why you should not.
It could be that the story really is over, but you’re finding it hard to let go. Of course, as a writer, you’re going to know – or, at least, want to know – what happens next to your characters. It’s natural. The question is, does your reader need to know, too? Are you making the story stronger, or are the characters overstaying their welcome?
Or, on the contrary, are you ending it too soon, and trying to condense what should be a sequel, into a quick “P. S.”?
That brings me to my next point: length.
In general, an epilogue shouldn’t be significantly longer than the longest regular chapter. Very short epilogues can work but, if it’s turning into a novella, or another novel – maybe that’s exactly what it’s meant to be.
Being honest, I’ve felt conflicted about many aspects of my WIP, including the ending, which changes, whenever I believe that I know it.
The characters don’t necessarily agree with my outline, or want to make my life, and writing process, simple.
Whether or not you choose to include an epilogue is, as I’ve stated already, a personal choice.
They’re devices and, in my opinion, can be highly effective.
As always, it’s a case of doing what we feel is best for our stories. It’s often a question of trial and error – so don’t be afraid to write that epilogue, even if you end up having to discard it. Since when has the writing process been easy, after all?