When I first typed THE END on my debut novel, Common, I adored my closing scene and couldn't imagine ending the story any other way. When my critique partners read it, they loved the ending, too. Yay!! But they wanted more. My main character underwent a major life change in that last scene, and they wanted to know how she adjusted. And how it affected her family and friends. And what happened to that other character? So I decided to write...an epilogue.
One major reason for an epilogue is if the final scene of the book ends the story in a good place but still leaves the reader with questions. For instance, I really wished a book I recently finished had included an epilogue, because while the ending scene was very satisfying, I felt the central mystery of the plot was left only partially solved. In a similar vein, an epilogue will be appreciated by readers if the ending produces some kind of upheaval in characters' lives, as in my example with Common, or a change within the entire society or world, like in the Harry Potter series. Another use for epilogues can be to tease a future book in a series or open the door for companion novels, as illustrated by the final pages of Julie Hall's Life After trilogy.
If an epilogue is appropriate for your novel, suddenly a much more panic-inducing question comes to mind. How should I do it? Should it be a scene in the future, and if so, when and how? Whose perspective should it be written from? Can I just answer the questions in a few sentences like in the movies?
I would recommend first figuring out the reason for your epilogue, and second, what needs to be conveyed. Whether an epilogue is providing closure or inviting speculation will have a major impact on the format, point of view, and timing. For example, in A Match of Sorts by Lucette Nel, one of the main characters chose to take her life in a different direction in the closing scene. The epilogue took place one year later from that character's perspective, illustrating how she fit in with her new family. On the other hand, Amy Brock McNew finishes each book of her Reluctant Warrior Chronicles with a short snippet from a villain's point of view, letting readers know that the calm achieved at the end of the novel won't last and making them wonder what's in store for the next installment. If the epilogue needs to answer a number of questions, a key conversation might be able to impart the information, or an alternative format such as a news article or letter.
I know there are readers out there who prefer to skip things like prologues and epilogues, but personally for any book I've enjoyed, I would hardly ever complain about getting to find out a little extra about the futures of those beloved characters :) How about you? Do you like to write / read epilogues? Have you seen any creative approaches you especially liked?
Thanks for reading!
P.S. We are sad to be saying goodbye to Jill as one of our regular contributors. Make sure to check out her last post and continue to follow her writing journey on her website. But we also have exciting news - a new blogger is joining Lands Uncharted! Lauricia Matuska is a fabulous YA fantasy author - check out her bio here and don't miss her first post coming up this Saturday!