Much like a prologue, an epilogue is optional. For a quick review on the appropriate use of prologues, check out this post: Does My Novel Need a Prologue?
An epilogue is sort of a second ending after the first ending. The question is, do you want to end your book twice? The last thing you want is for your reader’s final impression of your story to be one of repetition. That means if you use an epilogue, it better be for a good reason. Read on to find out if your novel needs an epilogue.
What is an Epilogue?
The word epilogue comes from the Greek words epi, which means in addition; and log, which means word. So technically an epilogue is “additional words.” The reason you might want to add one after your final chapter, wrapping up the story, is because you want to say what happens in the distant future, tell the conclusion from a different point of view, or in some ways wrap up the story beyond the main conflict/plot.
Let’s take Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as an example. JK Rowling winds down the novel and series with the final chapter, but she also adds an epilogue. It takes place 19 years in the future with the children of Harry and his friends boarding the train for Hogwarts. This is an appropriate use of an epilogue because it takes place well into the future—much further beyond the scope of the Deathly Hallows story itself. In this case, Rowling doesn’t end the story twice. She simultaneously provides information about beloved characters in the future, and she tees up another potential storyline about future protagonists. This is an epilogue for the win.
Should I Write One?
Like all writing advice, it’s ultimately up to you. If you feel you can end your story in a satisfying way with only one ending—do that. No matter how crafty you are, an epilogue means you’ll have two endings, which risks being repetitive. That said, if you feel like you need one, run through this list before writing it:
- Is the epilogue taking place at a more distant time?
- Is it written in a different style or tone?
- Will the reader not be satisfied until they know everything ultimately ends up okay?
- Are there loose threads that need to be tied up beyond the immediate ending?
- You want to write a sequel and this is the hook.
I’ve read love stories that had a satisfying ending to the immediate conflict (the couple got together), but the epilogue provided an even more robust finale. The author let us know that the characters got married or had kids or something along those lines.
Another time an epilogue is helpful is when there’s a mystery or a thriller. The end of the story resolves the mystery or solves the crime, but there are still loose ends. Maybe there’s a subplot involving romance or a family affair, and the reader will want to know what happens with that conflict after the immediate drama is over.
Ultimately the choice is yours, and as a writer, you’ll know what’s best for your book (or your editor will cut it!). Trust your instincts and add whatever makes for the most satisfying ending.