The epilogue debate is nowhere near as heated as the great prologue debate. However, the rules are the same for both–if you don’t have a clear purpose for creating either, why are you doing it? The prologue asks readers to start a book twice, while the epilogue provides more than one ending. Do you really need to duplicate the end of your book? Maybe you do …
An Exploration of Epilogues:
The following are reasons for including an epilogue. Please note, however, that these only work when you stay true to your overall story arc and theme. A gratuitous ending will read as exactly that–superfluous and annoying.
• A new lens on what just happened
In this case, the author can get really creative and provide an entirely new viewpoint on the final climax, after the action has ended. A new viewpoint could mean a new POV alongside a different angle on the story you just told. What if you flash into the future and someone is reflecting on the events of your story in an analytical, non-fiction style? What fresh perspective could this future POV provide as seen through a non-objective lens?
Example: A news report is read by a futurist version of your protagonist. How would that new character react to what they just learned? What would we now learn through their eyes?
• Flipping the known
This has to be done delicately and the groundwork for this must be laid out far in advance, sprinkled evenly along the narrative. Done badly, you risk losing the trust of your audience. Some readers get very offended by a trick ending. However, if done well, it could provide a huge payoff at the end where readers will rethink what they thought they knew and realize that the answers had been there all along.
Example: Two characters sacrifice their lives for the sake of their child. The epilogue gives us answers only eluded to in the main story. As it turns out, they were both terminally ill or they had truly committed that heinous crime–something that had been hinted at in a sliver of a backstory.
• A future view with fresh answers
If your main character has a tragic ending, it might be interesting to see them again in the epilogue after some time has passed. When using this technique, be sure to stay true to your overall theme. What new knowledge or unresolved issues have been absorbed and processed by your character? How are they coping now that they have had time and distance from the stress-inducing final event? This gives your readers a feeling of, Aww, look at that! So-and-so is doing okay! I feel better now.
Example: A character has conquered the demons of her world, but she still has not allowed anyone to get close to her. A future view in the epilogue could see her in a relationship and how she is allowing herself to be more open to others.
• Series tie-in: A view of what’s to come
This is great if you are writing a series or a sequel. The action has ended in your last chapter and we think everything is okay–but it’s not. This is a perfect opportunity to pave the way for your next book and build anticipation within your readership.
Example: The main character thinks she has vanquished the vile antagonist, but three months later she learns that her long-lost brother has just met this wonderful woman who shares the same name and description as the evil villain. Coincidence? Or is the main character’s family in mortal danger?