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What’s an Epilogue? Definition & Examples

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10 December 2023

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Epilogue Definition & Examples

As writers, we all know the importance of an introduction and a conclusion. But what about an epilogue? How important is it in the grand scheme of things?

If you want to round out your story and give it more depth, then an epilogue could be just the thing. It’s not something all stories need, but when used correctly, an epilogue can leave readers with a lasting impression.

So what is an epilogue exactly? In this blog, I’ll explore its purpose, usage and structure, and share examples of how successful authors have used them in their books.

What is the definition of an epilogue?

Simply put, an epilogue comes at the end of a book. It’s the last event in the story following the main ending. It can provide closure, a glimpse of the future beyond the main narrative and tie up loose ends. Epilogues can also introduce the next instalment in a series.

Epilogues are considered a separate element of the story because they tend to jump forward in time, whether it’s a few days or years. They can answer the reader’s questions, especially if your story ended on an ambiguous note, like “What became of the protagonist after the battle?” And “Did the hero get a happy ending?”

Have you ever come to the end of a story and wondered what happened next? Sure, the story had an ending, but maybe it was missing something. This is where the epilogue comes in. When readers care about the characters, an epilogue can provide a rewarding glimpse into how things unfolded or answer those burning, unresolved questions.

4 epilogue examples

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

One famous example is the infamous Harry Potter epilogue. In her last book in the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling jumps forward 19 years to show us how the characters have grown up and moved on with their lives, providing a very satisfying dose of closure after seven books.

2. The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short but powerful epilogue is told by the protagonist, Nick Carraway, who reflects on the aftermath of Gatsby’s death. It informs readers of the ultimate fate of the characters.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s hit dystopian concludes with an epilogue set in the year 2195, where historians of Gilead discuss the society. It’s revealed that the regime has fallen, and scholars are now piecing together the truth from old documents, including June’s tapes where she tells her story.

4. Mockingjay: The Hunger Games

While Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series ends with a sense of ambiguity, the epilogue jumps ahead several years and removes any doubt about what happened to the main characters. It brings the story full circle, giving a peaceful picture of the future.

Epilogues & afterwords

If you’ve confused an epilogue with an afterword, you’re not alone. Both appear at the end of a book, but they have different purposes. An epilogue follows the story and can resolve lingering plot elements that weren’t concluded within the main narrative. An afterword is an additional section written by the author (or even another author sometimes). The afterword frequently includes insights into the author’s creative process or acknowledgements to people who supported them in finishing the work, such as editors, friends and relatives.

How to write an effective epilogue

To write an effective epilogue, consider the theme and tone of your story. What do you want your readers to take away? What unresolved issues are left hanging that could be tied up? Your epilogue can provide closure for the reader and insights into the characters’ lives following your main ending. It’s also important to make sure that your epilogue is consistent with the tone and style of the rest of the story.

Tips to help you write an effective epilogue

1. Make sure the epilogue is consistent with the tone and theme of your story.

2. Be sparse—epilogues aren’t short stories.

3. Avoid reiterating the theme of your novel. Your epilogue is not a conclusion.

4. Spotlight your protagonist. Your readers will want to know what happened to them after the main ending.

FAQs

What’s the difference between epilogues and conclusions?

Epilogues and conclusions serve to wrap up narratives, although they serve slightly different purposes. Strictly speaking, a conclusion is common in non-fiction books and often summarises the main themes. On the other hand, an epilogue tends to be found in novels or plays, and shares post-story events, like giving glimpses into the characters’ futures.

Does every story need an epilogue?

An epilogue is not always necessary for every story. It will be up to you as an author whether you wish to include a concluding epilogue in your book. Ask yourself whether the epilogue will help to provide closure for any unanswered questions in the main narrative.

How long is an epilogue?

Epilogues vary in length but are often shorter than the book’s preceding chapters. They should deliver a concise and satisfactory conclusion. As a rule of thumb, it should be just long enough to tie up any loose ends while also providing an engaging glimpse into the future.

Write a powerful epilogue with the help of an editor

An epilogue is a useful tool for writers. It can provide closure to the story, offering the reader a glimpse of the characters’ futures beyond the main narrative, or add a layer of richness.

By understanding the purpose and tone of your writing, you can write an epilogue that truly resonates with your readers. Need a second opinion? Explore my editorial services in the Writing Hub and let me help you elevate your novel.

Eira Edwards profile photo

Written By Eira Edwards

Eira is a writer and editor from the South of England with over five years of experience as a Content Manager, helping clients perfect their copy.

She has a degree in English Literature and Language, which she loves putting to work by working closely with fiction authors.

When she’s not working on manuscripts, you can find her in the woods with her partner and dog, or curling up with a good book.

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