Last week, we went over the pros and cons of epilogues, which is in essence a bonus chapter or scene found at the end of a book that typically offers a glimpse into your characters' futures. Epilogues can bring a stronger sense of closure in the way they wrap up any loose threads, but they're not always needed.
There are times where it's better to let the curtain fall with the final chapter of the main story and not continue into an additional segment.
Determining whether to write an epilogue or not can leave writers at a crossroads. In this post, we're going over some of the reasons you might want to include in your WIP—and reasons it might be better to skip it.
Let's start with why an author may choose to add an epilogue.
The End Is Just The Beginning
As discussed last week, some epilogues not only bring the story to a close, but be the first hint at where things are going next.
You'll see this frequently in romance novels, for example.
It's common for a romance series to resemble not one story continuing over several installments, but an anthology revolving around siblings or a friend group. Each person gets to be the protagonist for one book that focuses on their individual romance while popping up in the other stories as a secondary character.
The epilogues in these books wrap up one story but might allude to the next in the series.
For example, the book about Mallory and her new wife packing up for a ski trip with Mallory's sisters, and the sequel following Rosemary might take place at the lodge.
If you want to give readers a little taste of what they can expect down the road for your series, an epilogue may be just the place to do it.
It's The End Of The Series
On a similar note, among the predominant reasons an author might include an epilogue is at the end of a series—typically a trilogy or longer but there's no reason a duology cannot have an epilogue as well.
YA dystopian trilogies, for example, might use an epilogue to explore what happened to the protagonists once everything is said and done and all the battles are fought. The epilogue Mockingjay, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy, shows Katniss and Peeta having settled down and starting a family. Katniss also reflects on the paths of other characters and what happened to them, tying up any loose ends. Allegiant wraps up the Divergent trilogy with a callback to the first book as Tobias spreads Tris's ashes during a zipline ride, an activity that was part of her initiation into the Dauntless faction.
Epilogues can give readers the sensation that the trials and obstacles the characters faced throughout the series are at last at an end, and that the (surviving) characters are going to be okay.
Even if the stakes aren't as intense as a teen-led revolution against a corrupted government, an epilogue can be a nice send-off for a series.
Bringing your story to a close means it's time to tie up any remaining threads. You've got the big-picture stuff like conflict resolution, maybe your love interests finally riding off into their Happily Ever After, some final reflections from the narrator, and all those other things one may expect of a finale. There are things, however, that aren't as easy to cover with this big, tidy bow.
Epilogues are a great place to touch on these things. In my own writing, I feel like I end up being something of a news reporter briefing my readers on the outcome of any lingering subplots and updates about relevant character relationships, such as someone's brother being inspired to take up studying law or how a character's business has changed following a new partnership.
Trying to wrap up all of these details might disrupt the pace of things and that feeling of closure And epilogue creates an additional space to address those lingering questions that are harder to fit in during the final chapters of the main plotline.
An epilogue can give readers an additional bit of closure while allowing an author to go into more detail about odds and ends while wrapping things up, but it's not necessary. In fact, there are a few circumstances where it would be better to end things with the last chapter of the narrative.
Boosting The Wordcount
Epilogues are, in a sense, expansions on the main story and including one extends the work by at least a few pages.
I've seen both prologues and epilogues suggested as a way to lengthen your WIP, but I typically disagree with this advice.
If you're looking to increase your wordcount, it's possible that there are areas within your story that need a little more attention. It's better to take another look at your manuscript and see if there are any underdeveloped characters or dynamics, underlying conflicts that could be brought to the surface, or opportunities for enriching your setting.
If your primary aim for an epilogue is squeezing a few more words in, it's probably better to explore these other options first.
A Means To A Better End
Some writers might use a prologue as a way to drop readers into something interesting to hook their attention, you might see writers who include an epilogue as a way to wrap up the main storyline in a more satisfying way.
An epilogue is a bonus scene connected to the action but standing apart as well. By the time you reach the epilogue, the main conflicts should already be resolved. If anything, there should only be a few loose ends to wrap up.
Just as a prologue is not the same as the inciting incident, an epilogue is not the conclusion. If your ending feels weak or falls flat, it's better to go back and assess why that may be.
It's Not Over
Epilogues are intended to wrap things up and draw your story to a close.
If you're writing the first or a middle installment of a series, including an epilogue may not make sense.
Writers whose stories span over multiple books might be advised to leave a carrot or two dangling at the end of each. These might be a few lingering questions for the reader to mull over or a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. Either of these can make readers want and/or need the next book—which is precisely what you want in most instances.
An epilogue does the opposite. Instead of leaving some threads loose, it ties everything up in a pretty little bow.
If you are planning to write one story that spans over multiple books, it may be best to hold off on the epilogue until the very last in the series.
Epilogues can bring additional closure to your writing and let your readers and characters part ways with an overall air of satisfaction and assurance that everything turned out well in the end. They can also give you an opportunity to highlight and revisit particular themes while tying up any lingering loose threads.
But although they can do a lot for your story's last pages, they're not needed in every circumstance.
As is the case with nearly all things in writing, examining the pros and cons of an epilogue can make it easier to determine how including one might enhance your WIP or detract from it.
In the end, it's up to you as the writer to determine if an epilogue would make for the perfect end.