Epilogue, the Real End?

The last time I talked about the importance of a prologue. So naturally, my next blog should focus on the end. If the beginning of a novel sometimes contains a prologue, then there must be something writers add to the end of a story other than the conclusion, right? That would be an epilogue. Just like a prologue, an epilogue is not needed for every story, but when included should serve a distinct purpose.

An epilogue is a section of content (chapter) that comes after the conclusion of a writer’s story. The main story has concluded, and the writer creates an epilogue to add a final thought, comment about the characters or events that are outside the bounds of the main story, but are still a part of the story line. For example, maybe the main story ended ambiguously with the protagonist starring at the horizon, and the writer added a chapter that details the protagonist’s next steps. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is an example. The seventh book includes an epilogue that occurs some nineteen years after the main story ends where readers see Harry sending his children to his beloved school of Hogwarts.

Writers use an epilogue to provide readers with additional information about the characters and the story world they built in the present or the future, and/or to set up a sequel. For example, Rowling knew her fans needed to have more of a conclusion to her series other than Harry finally defeating the bad guy. She understood that her fans were invested in the Potter World and genuinely needed to know how Harry’s life turned out after faithfully reading seven novels and watching the movies. Rowling’s inclusion of an epilogue allowed fans to see a happy ending for Harry. In addition, her epilogue provided a means to show readers that Hogwarts thrived years after the conclusion of the main story. Readers reconnected with the protagonist at the train station several years later to establish the world of magic, students, and traditions continued.

While epilogues are and should be a separate entity from the main story, they can also add a final word about the character or ending. Not all stories have a happy ending, and perhaps the author uses an epilogue to provide a different point of view about the events that occurred. For example, what if the main story is told through the protagonist’s perspective, but he or she dies at the end? Who is going to tell readers what happened, and why it happened? A different character such as a reporter, family friend, or even the antagonist can provide readers with details surrounding the protagonist’s death and any events that resulted from the incident. An epilogue is needed because the new information deviates from the main character’s perspective.

Other times, an epilogue can be useful when writers want to entice readers to buy the sequel. Author J.D. Robb, a.k.a. Nora Roberts, has written several romantic suspense novels known as the “In Death” series which involves a New York lieutenant and a mysterious wealthy man who often works outside of the law. Intrigued by the first novel in the series, eager fans have clamored for the next book because many of the epilogues contain a sneak peek at the next story line before the books hit the stores.

Just like a prologue, an epilogue can serve several purposes. Now that you know what an epilogue is and how it can be used, how will you use an epilogue to advance your novel?

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