How To Write An Epilogue

In my last post, I wrote about writing prologues. I thought I’d follow that up by writing about epilogues. I would like to begin this article by stating that prologues and epilogues, while at opposite ends of the book, each require different needs to be fulfilled in order to be written effectively. Let’s explore that, shall we?

First, what purpose does the epilogue serve? In a way, it serves as an enhanced last chapter. If the prologue serves to set the tone of the story and usher in whatever journey that the main character or characters are about to go on, then the epilogue serves to let the reader know, usually on a very happy note, that all is well and that the characters have moved on from the journey. This is why JK Rowling only used an epilogue in the final book of Harry Potter: during the previous six books, Harry was still very much in conflict with Voldemort, even if he wasn’t always aware of it. The epilogue in Book 7, when the next generation is sent off to Hogwarts in a more peaceful era, lets us know that the conflict between Harry and Voldemort is over, and that “all is well”.

Does an epilogue have to be one chapter? Depends on the writer. Some writers prefer to have only a chapter-long epilogue, while others have written epilogues that have taken up to two to four chapters. Snake, if I remember correctly, has around five chapters in its epilogue. Like I said, depends on the writer and what they want to do with their story.

How much wrapping up do you do in an epilogue? Preferably you want to wrap up all your loose ends at the end of the book, and especially if you’re doing an epilogue. Most authors, unless they’re writing a series, will try to get rid of loose ends as they can before they get to the final chapter, so that they’ll be able to wrap things up in a neat little bow at the end. Figuring out how much wrapping up needs to be done should usually be done in the plotting stages of writing your novel, though. This helps reduce stress and any unexpected problems or questions from cropping up at the end of the book.

Of course, some authors will have an epilogue that will have a happy little scene, and then tie up their loose ends or open questions in supplemental materials after the last book, but the authors who do that usually are big-name authors with traditional publishing houses like Charlaine Harris or JK Rowling. If you would like to do the same thing though, ask yourself one question: do you have a big enough fanbase that would be interested in a lot of supplemental material released after your book? It’s an important question to answer before you start writing.

What should the tone of the epilogue be? Most epilogues I’ve read tend to end on a happy or hopeful note. “We’ve gone to hell and back, but we survived, we conquered, and we’re stronger. Things may not always be great, but they’re not always terrible either.” Of course, there are probably epilogues that let the reader know that things aren’t as nice as they could be. I sort of wrote the ending to Snake to be that way. Once again, it depends on the writer, what sort of story you are writing, and how you want to go about writing it.

What’s the best way to write an epilogue? No two writers are alike (thank God for that), so it depends greatly on the writer. The best way to write an epilogue is to practice it each time you include one in a novel, and also see what works and doesn’t work for you when you read an epilogue in someone else’s book. This will allow you to figure out how best you can write an epilogue and include them in as many novels as you desire.

Now, not every novel has to have an epilogue, just like not every novel has to have a prologue. But if you decide to put an epilogue in your novel, I hope you’ll find this article and the advice it gives rather helpful. And please let us know in the comments section if you have any more advice on creating epilogues that resonate with audiences. We would love to hear from you.

10 Comments

  1. Ali Isaac says:

    Ah… I just left a comment about epilogues on your last post. It seems to me that epilogues can do more damage to a good book than anything else… the story is resolved, and then you get a load of superfluous gunk on top which totally spoils the ending you had pictured in your head from the final chapter. For me, the epilogue sets up the next book in the series. I do not foresee my final book requiring an epilogue.

    1. It’s the author’s choice on whether or not to include an epilogue. Sounds like you’ve got your style all figured out, so I guess perhaps this article wasn’t very helpful to you. Thanks for reading though.

      1. Ali Isaac says:

        Actually, I found both articles very insightful, and enjoyed reading them! Thanks!

  2. Excellent tips!

    I write in a series, but I left my MS with a final chapter that read mostly like an epilogue wrapping up the storylines of that plot.

    1. I guess what makes something an epilogue is whether or not you decide to call it that.

  3. I recently ran a question by my readers on Facebook, and most of them wanted epilogues. They wanted more of the “happily ever after” once the story was done. I write romance, so this might be more of a thing romance readers want, but I’ve decided I’ll be putting epilogues in all my books from now on. Thanks for the post.

    1. You’re welcome. I hope it works out.

  4. I really love prologues in books, especially when they are set years before the main storyline and/or involve a different POV to the rest of it. In my series, all three books have a prologue that fits this mould.

    I’m more ambivalent about epilogues, though I think they can work well if they take a similar approach, by being set years after most of the action or by giving a different perspective on what’s gone before. The third and final book of my series has an epilogue that picks up the story five years after the last chapter. I was very pleased with it, though it seems to be many fans’ least favourite part of the series, partly because it arguably doesn’t offer a conventional happy ending.

    1. Yeah, a lot of people like epilogues to be happy, or at least end with positive connotations. Not sure why, but maybe it has something to do with the expectation of “Happily Ever After”.

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