How to Write an Epilogue (should you?)
How to Write an Epilogue
An epilogue is placed at the very end of a literary work. It should reveal the fates of your characters or narrate events that occur after the ending of the text. Writers usually use the epilogue to tie up loose ends and resolve any issues in the main story so the reader is left satisfied. You may want to write an epilogue for your novel or literary work to end it on a final note. To do this, you will need to start the epilogue with a purpose in mind and compose it with care and thought. You should then polish the epilogue so it is at its best.
Starting the Epilogue
Determine the purpose for your epilogue.You should start the epilogue with a clear purpose in mind, as this will ensure the epilogue feels intentional and full of meaning. Decide what the main purpose for your epilogue will be and write with that purpose in mind.
- Ask yourself, What do I want to explore in the epilogue? What has been left out of the main text that I still want to write about?
- You may write an epilogue to provide the reader with some closure, to wrap up loose ends in the text, or to give the reader a glimpse of the future for the characters and the setting. Some writers also use the epilogue to expand on a major event in the text that they did not get to explore in the climax of the novel.
- For example, you may decide the purpose of your epilogue is to wrap up loose ends in the text about the fate of the main character. You may then focus on where the character ends up ten years or twenty years after the main action in the text.
Identify the key event or events in your epilogue.You should also decide what the key event or events are going to be in the epilogue. Outline the key events so you can get started on the epilogue and compose a draft of it. You may create a short plot outline for the epilogue or determine which events you are going to discuss based on the characters you are going to mention in the epilogue.
- For example, you may decide you are going to write an epilogue that flashes forward twenty years to tell the reader about what happens to certain characters. You may list these characters and then write several sentences about specific moments that occur to them in the future. These moments could then make up the epilogue for the text.
Read examples of epilogues.You can read epilogues in published works to get a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. You may read epilogues for a play, if you are writing an epilogue for a play, or epilogues written for a novel if you are creating an epilogue for a novel. You may read:
- The epilogue inAnimal Farmby George Orwell
- The epilogue inAtonementby Ian McEwan
- The epilogue inThe Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood
Composing the Epilogue
Discuss the results or consequences of the climax.In the epilogue, you may decide to focus on the results or consequences of the high point of the story, known as the climax. Writers will often take this approach if the ending of the story is the climax and the reader is left wondering what happens as a result of a major conflict or moment. You may opt for an epilogue that gives the reader a resolution to the climax so they are left satisfied at the very end of the book.
- For example, you may have a book that ends with the death of a character. Rather than leave the reader hanging, you may decide to include an epilogue that explores how the death of the character impacted the other characters in the novel.
Provide key information that is not in the main text.You may write an epilogue that provides information for the reader that was not included in the main text as a way to give the reader more. You may focus on information that was withheld in the main text and explore it further in the epilogue.
- For example, in the epilogue, you may discuss what happens to a character who is ill in the main text or what happens to a character who is pregnant. Try to include information about major characters in the story, as you want the epilogue to feel important and necessary to the reader.
Take the reader into the future.You may also use the epilogue to do some time travel and let the reader know what happens to the characters and/or the setting of the novel in a future time. You may explore where certain characters end up in the future as well as how their relationships to each other shifts or changes. You may also discuss how the setting of the novel changes or shifts as time goes on.
- If you decide to jump forward in time, you should try to make the characters’ stories feel realistic. Putting in details that do not seem to mesh with the main text may confuse your readers and undermine the rest of the story. Aim to keep the flash forward details about the characters realistic and nuanced.
- For example, you may jump forward in time and explore the dissolution of the marriage of two characters. You may note that one character is now dating another character who played a major role in the main text and that they have children together.
Set up a sequel in the epilogue.Some writers will use an epilogue to set up a sequel for the main text. This may be useful if you plan to write a series of books with the same characters or at least one more book in the same world in the future. You may create an epilogue that acts as a kind of preview of what will be to come in the sequel for the book. Or you may end the epilogue on a cliffhanger that leaves the reader wanting more, preferably in the form of a sequel text.
- For example, you may end the epilogue by having two characters get together and have a child. You may then indicate that the child has special abilities or is in grave danger, and this issue will only be resolved in a sequel text.
Polishing the Epilogue
Keep the epilogue concise and to the point.Though you may be tempted to write on and on in the epilogue, try to keep it concise and to the point. Often, epilogues are no more than one chapter long, running around five to ten pages maximum. Avoid an epilogue that is overly long or that tries to cover too much information. Only leave the reader with enough to feel satisfied in some way.
- You may read over the epilogue once you have a draft of it and consider if there are any sections you can revise or cut down. You may find that you are being redundant or there are details that can be removed.
Read the epilogue out loud.Once you have completed a draft of the epilogue, you should read it aloud to yourself and listen to how the words sound on the page. Make sure the epilogue uses the same language and style as the main text so it does not seem out of place. Check that the details in the epilogue are clear and engaging for the reader.
- You may also show the epilogue to a sympathetic reader for a second opinion. Ask them if they feel the epilogue adds to the main text and is compelling.
Get feedback on the epilogue from a friend or colleague.You should show a draft of the epilogue to a friend or colleague whose opinion you trust. Ask them to provide feedback on your work and give you notes on how you can improve it or make it stronger.
- You may show a draft of the epilogue to several friends or colleagues so you can get multiple opinions on the writing.
Make sure the epilogue fits the tone of the rest of the text.You should make sure the epilogue compliments the tone and mood you have already established with the main text, especially if you end the main text on a high note, or a climax. You may adopt a similar tone in the epilogue as in the main text so it flows well and leaves the reader satisfied.
- Another option is to adopt a different tone that than main text so the reader knows they are reading extra information or content that will complicate their initial thoughts about the ending of the main text. You may do this if you want the epilogue to leave the reader wondering or unsettled.
QuestionShould an epilogue have a title?Community AnswerAn epilogue can have a title, but it is not necessary. An example can be "20 years later," to show how your characters have developed in those 20 years.Thanks!
QuestionHow many key events need to be in the epilogue?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere's no certain amount of key events that need to be included in an epilogue. Just make sure to cover the outcome of the story.Thanks!
QuestionDo I label the epilogue in the paper's text, such as at the top of the last page?Top AnswererYes, epilogues are usually labeled as such, typically at the beginning of the epilogue.Thanks!
QuestionCan I put a prologue and epilogue in each chapter of a memoir?Top AnswererThat would be overkill. Books typically have no more than one prologue and one epilogue.Thanks!
Video: How to Write an Epilogue That Works - Lessons from How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson
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