You've worked so hard writing your manuscript and now you wonder how to write an epilogue. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, learning how to write an epilogue is an important step to providing your readers with a resounding ending.
Before we dive into the details of how to write an epilogue, it's crucial to note the difference between an epilogue and an afterword.
When you write an afterward, you put off the persona of your characters and write as the author yourself. An afterward discusses any remaining points about the book and is not a continuation of the book itself.
On the other hand, when you decide on how to write an epilogue, you create an additional ending to your manuscript. An epilogue can help in a myriad of ways, and I discuss five of them below.
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How To Write An Epilogue: Don’ts
When wondering how to write an epilogue, one of the first aspects to take note of is what an epilogue should not do. Epilogues can play a powerful role in the ending of your book but they should never be used to make up for a poor ending.
In fact, many books do not use epilogues because the ending justifies the entirety of the book. It's simply not needed.
However, if you do use an epilogue, it should leave the reader satisfied rather than wondering what happens next or wishing there was more to read.
An epilogue is not a cliffhanger, it is not an inciting incident, and it is certainly not a plot twist. With all of these negatives in mind, it's time to discuss how to write an epilogue that does well. Satisfying readers is one of the best ways to maintain your readership and create space for yourself in a highly saturated industry.
How To Write An Epilogue: Do’s
Now that you understand the negatives of how to write an epilogue, it's time to discuss what you should include when writing what is often considered an ending after your ending. While epilogues are not often used in today's books, there is certainly a time and place for them.
The trick to writing a great epilogue is to understand precisely why they are used and what factors you should include when writing yours.
Before diving in, consider the following: As writers, it's easy to want to continue a story that has already been wrapped up. Consider what J.K. Rowling must have felt writing the last line of the last book of her Harry Potter series.
What a bittersweet moment that must have been! Her world-renowned series could certainly handle an epilogue after she:
- Wrote that many books for that many years
- Watched her story come alive on the big screen
- Taught a generation of children how to fall in love with reading
While we likely won't be competing with Rowling anytime soon, there are five important aspects to consider when deciding how to write an epilogue and whether or not you should.
#1 – Provide Insight Into The Protagonist’s Life
An epilogue can be used to provide insight into your hero's life, years into the future.
Rowling used her epilogue to portray Harry and his friends nearly two decades after the last line of the last chapter. Suzanne Collins uses hers to show her hero as a mother still contemplating the repercussions of what she endured over the trilogy.
With time comes insight. An epilogue is a fantastic way to give this insight to the reader.
#2 – Focus On 20/20 Vision
To build on point one, an epilogue can also give readers a clear look at what transpired over the course of the book, what happened, and what might have been.
We’ve likely all experienced an incident in our lives where, looking back, we felt we could have done something differently. An epilogue allows the readers to look back with 20/20 vision and see the plot of the story with clarity.
#3 – Prepare For A Sequel
While epilogues are commonly used to provide closure to a novel or series, they can also be used to set up a sequel. If you're wondering how to write an epilogue for your debut novel and plan to write a sequel, you're already one step ahead of where you think you might be.
An epilogue can quickly summarize events that it would take chapters to write about. For instance, if you want to begin your second novel three years in the future, your epilogue can help set readers up to anticipate your opening.
While epilogues should never leave your readers hanging, they can provide closure as well as excitement for the next book in your series.
#4 – Give Closure
One of the single most important aspects of learning how to write an epilogue is understanding the power of closure. There’s not much worse than closing a book and feeling like the ending came too soon or didn’t provide the answers you hoped it would.
While your story ending should be powerful and conclusive in and of itself, in epilogue can provide any additional closure your readers may need.
Consider Collins’ epilogue: Readers did not need to know exactly what happened to the hero, but after three books of hoping she would have some semblance of a normal life, Collins providing an epilogue that showed respect for her readers.
#5 – Drive The Theme Home
You likely spent 50,000 to 80,000 words working to portray the theme of your story. Your theme is the core that holds your story together. Think of an epilogue as the last dance, the final curtain call, or the last speech before your reader closes the book one last time.
This is your final moment to present the power of your theme in such a way that it lingers in the minds of your readers for days and weeks to come.
Just as deciding on the perfect beginning for your story may take more time than you originally planned, take the time you need to craft the perfect epilogue. You will be thankful you did!
Next Steps For How To Write An Epilogue: Embrace Subjectivity
Well there are many wrong ways to write an epilogue, there is no single right way. Consider the many ways J.K. Rowling could have taken when crafting hers. What if she had jumped nine years into the future instead of nineteen? What if she had skipped ahead thirty years?
Of course, after reading the epilogue to Harry Potter it seems like the only possible way to close Harry’s childhood and see him into adulthood. The same should be true for your epilogue.
Learning how to write an epilogue takes time, creativity, and boldness. Due to the subjectivity of epilogues, you may need to write several, all from different timelines, until you find the one that’s best for your story.
An epilogue can be as soon as the day after your novel ends, or years later when your protagonist has a family of their own. What’s best for your story is up to you, the author, to decide.
Rather than let this open-ended subjectivity scare you, embrace the freedom that comes with being a creative writer!