The Epilogue Questions

Wednesday, March 09, 2022
I finished the manuscript! Woohoo! Woohoo! *confetti showers* 

Or maybe I have one more chapter. Still Woohoo! 

Or maybe it’s an epilogue? Okay, hold my confetti, I have to think. 

From the beginning of this novel, I envisioned an epilogue where I’d tie up the very last of the particulars from the story. But somewhere between putting that period on the last sentence of the last chapter and typing the word “Epilogue” I paused. And now I’ve been thinking A LOT about epilogues in general and mine specifically. 

First, I’m wondering if the only reason I’m thinking of writing an epilogue is because I’m reading a mystery series where the author always includes an epilogue. I mean, how often does one see an epilogue? Not very often, right? (Unless you, too, are reading this particular series and then you’ll see one at least thirty times.) And the epilogues in this series—and the very few ones I can remember—tend to have a significant time jump. It often covers many months down the road, if not years. And I just want to skip ahead a few weeks. So is that even an epilogue? 

And what is an epilogue, anyway? What’s the proper definition? Because it’s sometimes the case with me that I think I know something when in fact, I do not really know it at all. 

So according to Merriam-Webster an epilogue is: 1 : a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work. 2a : a speech often in verse addressed to the audience…(and other definitions having to do with theater). 

Which is all well and good, but it really doesn’t get to the meat of the definition when it comes to novels. Isn’t it fortunate that I’m not the only one asking, “But what does epilogue mean in a book?” And so there is this answer, courtesy of Masterclass, Writing 101: 

An epilogue is the final segment of a story and effectively serves as one final chapter. An afterword is a statement on the entire narrative, and it is frequently told from a different perspective and period of time


But wait. That still doesn’t explain when one calls those last concluding bits an epilogue or when one just calls it Chapter 29. (Plus, now I’m wondering about the whole afterword thing, which I’ve always found somewhat confusing and assumed it was a British convention. Like calling the trunk of an automobile a boot.) 

And so I continued my research into the epilogue but short of reading reams of stuff (and who has time for that? I’ve got a novel to finish!), I happily came across Jerry Jenkins (author of Left Behind series, has sold a gazillion books) who had a rather succinct section on the epilogue and what goes in it. In a nutshell, here’s what he had to say: 

The most important aspect of a good Epilogue is its purpose. It should either show the reader what happens to your main character after the story ends or it should pave the way for a sequel or even a series

Well, there you go. Sort of. 

To sum up, I’m absolutely certain that when it comes to the epilogue, it must come at the end of the story. And why to have one or what goes in it is…well, a little less certain. But not for me. I know exactly what’s going in my epilogue! *throws confetti*

 (But just out of curiosity, where do you stand on the epilogue? Good, bad, or indifferent?)


Margo Dill said...

I love a good epilogue. I'm not sure what it is, but it feels like you are getting an extra bit of the story...Harry Potter book 7 has one of my favorites of all time!

Sioux Roslawski said...

I agree with Margo. It's like a bonus. (And it sounds like you're already prepping for a sequel? ;)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

In a series, a good epilogue allows you, the author, to wink at the reader. "You thought the story was done? Not so fast." But all without breaking the fourth wall.

Andrea said...

I have to disagree with the others. When thinking as a reader I have not read an epilogue I liked yet. When you mentioned Harry Potter I cringed because I think the best gift an author can give a reader is to leave the story open to imagination. I did not like Rowlings' idea of the future for our favorite characters, mainly because I had my own version (and the movie was even worse).

I can see, however, an epilogue of sorts for nonfiction pieces to help summarize the main points of a book. But, I also think a good nonfiction book doesn't need an epilogue. I only hope that my future works live up to that standard.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Margo, I also love a good epilogue! I don't remember the HP one in Book 7...but then, I tend to remember the 'Big picture" stuff from HP and not a lot of details. Lord knows, Rowlings was/is the Queen of Details!

And yes, Sioux, I'm thinking in terms of a series, and I like a monologue that as Sue said, winks at the reader, saying, "You liked this? Wait, there's more!" (Kinda like those old infomercials. :-)

And Andrea, I think epilogues tend towards an either love or hate 'em relationship with readers, and editors, too. I remember years ago at a writers' conference when an editor addressed prologues and epilogues. She was not a fan and neither was the panel. The general feeling was "Use only when necessary" which according to a lot of editors, isn't often. :-) It made a lasting impression on me and at the time, I rewrote a prologue (in a current WIP) and for lo these many years, I've stayed away from both prologues and epilogues. But yeah, I wrote an epilogue this time. And I liked it! *throws more confetti*

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