What is an Epilogue? 5 Tips to Write a Great One
An epilogue is an additional chapter to a book, typically found at the end of a novel. This extra chapter may provide additional facts about characters or events not fully developed in the narrative proper.
This usually takes place after the timeline of the story. For example, it could detail what happened to the characters several years later.
If you’re looking for some guidelines on how to write an epilogue for your next novel, this article will teach you 5 tips that will help you check all the required boxes.
Why Use an Epilogue
Epilogues are often used to provide added weight to your main narrative. It’s a path that at its most basic provides a window into the future of your characters to bring a sense of closure for readers.
For example, they could be used to tie up loose ends in your story or you could leave them open ended for readers’ imaginations to fill in the gaps. You could also use them as a tool for added commentary.
Epilogues can also act as a bridge between your story and a sequel; it’s one way to give readers satisfaction for how the story ends while whetting their appetite for more.
And if there are unanswered questions left behind by events in the book or if something significant happened in your story without being explained properly, then the epilogue would be the appropriate place for these answers.
How To Write an Epilogue
The best way to write an epilogue is to make sure it’s an integral part of your novel and not an appendage that doesn’t fit into your plotline.
You can follow the three steps below as a guideline to create your epilogue:
Step 1: Read your finished manuscript cover to cover, then reflect on your story and its conclusion. Is there something that would bring a better sense of closure for your readers?
Step 2: Now pick up where your story left off and continue forward in time, thinking about how things might play out for your main characters in line with the sense of closure mentioned above.
Step 3: Finally, imagine the future lives of any secondary characters you always wanted your readers to know more about and provide added context into their future as well.
When Not to Use an Epilogue
An epilogue should never be used to repeat or summarize what has already been written about, as this would only confuse your readers. It should also never introduce new plotlines that are not part of or related to your story in any way.
Lastly, if your conclusion already does a great job at providing closure for your readers, then you probably don’t need an epilogue. You might be better off leaving your readers thinking about what they just read without adding extra commentary.
5 Tips to Write Great Epilogues
If you do choose to go the epilogue route for your novel, here are five tips that’ll help make sure it satisfies what your readers will expect from you:
Tip 1. The epilogue should provide closure for your readers
Use your epilogue to give your readers what they need to feel a sense of closure with your story. Use it to provide closure with your main character plotlines as well as any secondary characters that were prominent throughout the book.
Tip 2. The epilogue should tie up loose ends
The goal of your epilogue is to tie up loose ends and answer any questions that might have been left unanswered, so make sure you don’t use it to introduce any new information that’s beyond the scope of your original story.
Tip 3. They can be used to introduce an alternative ending
An alternative ending is an option that can work well with certain types of stories, where you are addressing what might happen if events were different or speculating about what may have happened next.
Having said that, remember that your audience is always looking for closure, so don’t provide an alternative ending that leaves them hanging. They will not appreciate being left wondering what’ll happen next when they finish reading your new ending.
Tip 4. Epilogues are usually short
The goal of your epilogue is to sum up what happened to your characters after the story ends, not to become a mini sequel to your main story.
While it’s possible to write a long epilogue spanning many pages, for instance if you want your readers to have a more detailed understanding of how things turned out years down the road, make sure to never use it to upstage the actual ending of your book.
Tip 5. Epilogues are not necessary for every story
If your book’s conclusion is strong and brings clear closure in relation to all your characters’ journeys, then in all likelihood your epilogue won’t add much value to your book.
Also, depending on your circumstances, you may consider using an epilogue-less ending to leave your readers wondering about what happens next, as a sort of cliffhanger for your next novel.
At the end of the day, whether you think you need an epilogue in your book or not, what matters most is that you feel confident in the way your story ends. If you feel that you already have a strong conclusion, then you won’t likely need to add anything to it.
But if your story ends after a very intense climax and you feel you need a little extra “something” to diffuse the tension and calm the waters, or if you feel certain characters require a happier ending for closure purposes, having an epilogue might be a good option.
If you are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.