Last month, we looked at the rather controversial topic of prologues and this month, we’re talking about their more forgiving sibling, epilogues. If a good prologue opens a window into your story, a successful epilogue ties a neat bow around it. The epilogue is not the ending of your story—instead, it is the part that comes after the end, once the climax has peaked and been resolved. It adds one last boost to the conclusion of a story, which, above all else, should create a feeling of satisfaction for the reader.
Things to keep in mind
Going back to my essay analogy, let’s think of an epilogue as a concluding paragraph. When writing a conclusion for an essay, the number one rule is that you don’t bring up any new ideas. So, if you choose to write an epilogue, don’t introduce new characters or settings. Readers will get thrown off if they read an entire story about a coven of witches only for the epilogue to mention the existence of space pirates. Unless you’re keying up for a sequel, readers might feel cheated. “What do you mean there are space pirates? Where were they this whole time?!” they’ll probably think. You want your reader to appreciate the ending to your story and contemplate the themes you explored, so don’t confuse them with new ideas!
That doesn’t mean the epilogue should be boring or repetitive, though. You may as well not include it in that case, because the reader will just gloss over it. The epilogue should still add something to the story. Another piece of advice my English teacher gave me about conclusions is that they should act as an expansion of your essay, restating your main points with a unique spin and broadening your original argument to give your reader the chance to contemplate everything that came before.
This is often why effective epilogues will include a significant time jump. Many readers are curious to see how the characters fare after the main plot ends. They want to see the effects of the story, even if those effects are not overly significant to the story itself. How do the themes of your story hold up after time has passed? Hopefully, they hold up well.
But like I said about writing good prologues, keep your epilogue short and sweet. If you’ve written loveable characters, your readers will appreciate a little insight into their lives after their story ends, but you don’t want to drag it out too long. You’ll risk boring your reader and losing the full impact of the main story.
Because of the brevity of an epilogue, you’ll inevitably have to leave some details out, even if you know exactly what happens. This is a good thing, though. You want to leave some things up to the reader’s imagination and let them come to their own conclusions. Part of what makes a story interesting is knowing when to spell something out and when to leave it up to interpretation. Your epilogue is no different.
If you’re thinking about writing an epilogue, keep these ideas in mind and you’ll be sure to provide your reader with a satisfying end to your story!
About the author: Lindsey is currently working towards her BA in English and Creative Writing at Brandeis University. She loves writing short stories and has more recently taken an interest in writing poetry. She is also an Editor-in-Chief for her school literary magazine, Laurel Moon. You can usually find her reading, crocheting, or bothering her cat, Sister. She hopes to be a writer and an editor in the future to continue to help others improve their work.