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What is an Epilogue and When Do You Use One in a Novel?

Updated on April 7, 2014

One School of Thought

There are those who feel that an epilogue is completely unnecessary. To those people I would simply say that they should watch the epilogue on the cult-classic film “Animal House” and then re-consider your opinion.

But I have jumped ahead of myself. First let’s give you a working definition of an epilogue and then I’ll explain when they are perfectly acceptable.

An epilogue is a short addition or concluding section at the end of a literary work.

And yes, I can hear you saying, “Well, if it is a conclusion then why not just make it the concluding chapter? Why call it an epilogue?”

A valid question for sure. Hopefully it is one I will adequately answer in this article.

Take caution when using an epilogue
Take caution when using an epilogue | Source

Why You Should Not Use an Epilogue

There must be a very clear reason for an epilogue. If you are using one simply to tie up loose ends in a nice neat package, then you are misusing this grammatical tool. Tying up loose ends is the job of your last few chapters and not the job of an epilogue.

If not used properly an epilogue will end up seeming like unnecessary fluff….deadweight without a purpose….and you just might send the message to the reader that you had no confidence in your weak ending so you decided to buff it up a bit.

When You Should Use an Epilogue

There are some situations where an epilogue is perfectly appropriate. Let’s take a look at some of those.

When your story ends with a traumatic or violent climax….say your main character dies….then an epilogue can be used to give the reader some closure. Similarly, when the fate of your characters is not really known after such a violent climax, an epilogue can be used effectively.

There are some who will say that when your ending raises more questions than it answers, an epilogue is necessary, and there are those who will respond that your ending should not be so weak as to leave the reader dangling like that.

If you would like to point out to your readers the consequences or results of story events, an epilogue can be used to do so.

There are also times when there is important information that was not covered in the climax of the story. Say the story ended with a main character suffering from lung cancer. In this case an epilogue might be nice so the readers know the outcome of that cancer patient…..or…if one of the main characters gives birth at the end of the story, you might like to let the readers jump ahead several years and find out how that child is doing. Remember, though, that there has to be a clear and valid reason for doing this.

Those who write a series of books based on one main character, like private eye novels, can effectively use epilogues to suggest the future of that character. An epilogue is quite effective if a sequel is being planned; it will serve as a bridge to the next book in the series.

Epilogues are usually reserved for very good writers who know how to properly use them
Epilogues are usually reserved for very good writers who know how to properly use them | Source

A Couple Examples

Let’s take a look at a couple famous epilogues from days gone by. First, from “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare:

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things,
Some shall be pardoned, and some punished,
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

And another from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” spoken by Rosalind:

“…and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women— as I perceive by your simpering, none of you hates them— that between you and the women the play may please. If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not. And I am sure as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.”

And Now for a Bonus

How do you write an epilogue? There are no set rules regarding the format of an epilogue, but these guidelines might be helpful:

  • Keep the point of view consistent with the rest of the novel. In other words, if the novel is told in first person, then the epilogue should be in first person
  • Decide where you want to continue the story. Is the epilogue told a day later? A year later? Twenty years later?
  • Decide who is going to be in the epilogue. Will there be one character or several characters?
  • Plan the scenario for the epilogue. Remember, this short addition must flow smoothly from the rest of the novel.
  • Avoid “happily ever after’ or other clichéd endings. Those types of epilogues are for mundane writers and that is not you.
  • Consider a different format for your epilogue to give it some punch. You might write your epilogue in the form of a poem to give it that extra kick.
  • If you are considering a sequel, use the epilogue to hint at an unresolved conflict, one that will be resolved in the next book.
  • Decide on the length of the epilogue. Normally they are reasonably short, but that is the norm and not the rule.

No, I am not a fan of using an epilogue just for the sake of using one
No, I am not a fan of using an epilogue just for the sake of using one | Source

Final Thoughts

If you have been paying attention, and if you have minimal knowledge about writing, you will reach this point and still not be sure whether to use an epilogue or not; believe me, I know it’s a bit confusing.

For most novels, if the novel is well-written, an epilogue is not necessary. During the climax and conclusion, most questions have been answered in a finely-written novel. In the humble opinion of this author, in 90% of the novels written today, an epilogue is not necessary. The only time this author would consider using one is if a series were planned, and the goal was to lay the groundwork for the next book in the series.

Still, there are writers out there who firmly believe in epilogues and use them often, and to those writers I say BRAVO!

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      yes it does, Deb...if I ever write a series I'll for sure use them. Thanks!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This makes a lot of sense to use this tool in a series of material. Thanks, Billy!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for your thoughts Glimmer. I'm torn on epilogues. There is a valid reason for them, but some writers overdo it, and others don't use it when they should. :)

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Unlike my comments on the prologue hub a few minutes ago, I do read the epilogue. Like you said, there are times when it's nice to see loose ends tied up. Unfortunately some writers don't tie up the loose ends I want to know about and I am left wondering. Then again, I am thinking about the book, so maybe that is what the author wants.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, it is just one of those things I have problems with. Rarely do I see an epilogue as necessary, and all too often they are used when they shouldn't be. Having said that, I thank you.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I have a tendency to agree with you, Bill, on epilogues. If the story is good enough and loose ends are tied together well throughout the book, an epilogue really isn't necessary. Still, I'm glad to have these guidelines for reference and I thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great point, Genna! Thanks as always for the visit.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I love the epilogue. It’s a wonderful way of including that ever important answer to a question mark and/or segue into a new story. Excellent hub, Billy, as always. :-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      vkwok, they are probably perfect for your series. Good luck and thanks.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks very much for sharing this hub, Bill! This will definitely help in what to consider for my epilogues!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I am happy to hear that, DDE! thank you so much.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, for the most part that is when an epilogue is most effective. Your understanding of it is quite accurate.

      Have a wonderful day my friend, and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Faith. Thanks once again for being so faithful. I'm not a big fan of epilogues but only because they are so often used unnecessarily.

      blessings today and always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is always my pleasure, Alicia. Thank you!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I have more of an idea now on the Epilogue of a book and when to use it you have provided an informative and useful hub.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 3 years ago

      Good evening Bill.

      As of deliciously prepared meal in this hub, to everyone enjoyment. Thank you. Epilogue to me always meant insinuating into next : leaving with expectation that there exists ' next .' ( A reader's choice imagining potential conclusion ).

      Useful and interesting.

      Good night and may God bless you my friend.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Thank you, Bill, for answering why some do use one and some do not, as I have always wondered about such and now I know! The reasons you state to have one make the most sense, otherwise, I do not see why one would need to use one. I do like the poetry idea too.

      Useful article here once again.

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for adding even more information to your very useful collection for writers, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheila, I have found epilogues to be one of the least understood tools at our disposal. Glad I could clarify for you. Thank you as always my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Poolman, maybe one day. It's on my to do list. :) Thanks buddy! Enjoy your week.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thanks for the great explanation. I always wondered why some people write epilogues and some don't. But now that I've read your hub, I realized I knew the answer all along and didn't even know it. Almost every epilogue I've read has been about what happened at some future time. I don't know if I'll ever use one, but now I know when I should or shouldn't. Great advice as always.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      Great explaination and advice my friend. I learned something again and appreciate you sharing your knowledge. You really should start a writing school.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      grand old lady, just consider me your writing wikipedia. :) I'm glad some of this is helping you my friend, and I appreciate you taking the time to visit me.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you for explaining when an epilogue should and should not be used, and the role it serves in a novel. I may have to keep all your book writing tips on a Pinterest folder I keep so that I will be able to access them easily when I'm ready to rework my novel.

      Very much appreciated hub, Mr. Billybuc:)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, those really are my thoughts as well. I want things tied up neatly. An author should be able to do it in the body of the work, but there are special circumstances at times that call for an epilogue. Thanks for your thoughts my friend and enjoy your week.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, I love your attitude and your approach. LOL Good luck my friend, and thank you.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. I do like an epilogue especially when I feel that there are loose ends. Perhaps this means the author did not wrap things up properly in the final chapter? Never-the-less, I do like things neatly concluded so I am not left wondering who, what, why, where, etc...

      Thanks for the continuing education. Have a great week.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I like the idea of poetry used for the epilogue; if they didn't like the book maybe they will the poetry? lol I might use that idea for a series of short stories. Thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Availiasvision, I am not a big fan of epilogues only because too often they are used incorrectly. In the case of the tv series you mentioned, that is a perfect situation for an epilogue. For the most part, I only like epilogues when a series of books are being written with ongoing characters, or when one book leads to the next.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California

      I like the finality of the last page, without there being an epilogue. It leaves a sinking feeling in your stomach, knowing that there will never be an act beyond the ending. A good novel leaves you satisfied, but also a little uncomfortable.

      In terms of film, one of the best endings I have ever seen on TV was the ending of the Burn Notice Series. All of the main action was wrapped up, and every character had their last moment. The audience is given just 20 seconds showing the outcome of the main characters. Just enough so that you know that they are ok and got what they wanted, and that the 7 season thesis had ended. The finality of the ending was stunning. I guess that 20 seconds could be considered an epilogue. It definitely left me wanting more. I don't want a "pretty" ending. I want to know that the character hit their mark.

      Very interesting topic. I really enjoyed pondering the usefulness of that literary tool.

      Jen

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There you go, Lisa! When writing a series an epilogue makes perfect sense. Good luck my friend and thank you.

    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 3 years ago

      This was very helpful! If I ever finish my first book, I plan on making a second in the series. I have been wondering about whether I should use an epilouge or not at the end. Now I have some awesome tips to consider. Thank you for sharing, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Exactly, Donna, and in that case they are perfect tools to use. Well done and thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Linda, and I agree...short and sweet when needed.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      I love epilogues! Both prologues and epilogues can be used as bridges between books in a series too. I mentioned last time that my second novel had a prologue. My first one had an epilogue and between the two made a great transition between the first book in the series and the second.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, Ann....as my son was fond of saying....whatever! LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, I don't know why in the world people want me to try poetry. I've tried it and it wasn't pretty. LOL Thanks dear friend....maybe I'll surprise you one day.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I look forward to the epilogue in books that I read...it's the best part, when I can finally exhale. A short and sweet epilogue is a perfect finale when the storyline needs one. I do NOT like when a story that I spend time on reading leaves unanswered questions, trust me I always have questions :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Yes, cruel to the end. We all have to see your brilliance in a poetry hub!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting and helpful as always. I liked the thought that you could use poetry as an epilogue. I would love to see you enter the challenge of Frank Atancio's ' April's poetry month. ' I think you've read them all, now make me proud, Do it! Pretty please...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rafiq, in a general way that is true...but unless the conclusion does not tie up all loose ends, an epilogue is not needed. Thanks for the visit my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I never realized that you have a cruel side to you. LOL Fine! I accept the challenge.

      And still I wish you a good week. LOL

      bill

    • Rafiq23 profile image

      Muhammad Rafiq 3 years ago from Pakistan

      Epilogue is the opposite of Prologue. Prologue opens the story, while Epilogue closes the story. Useful and informative hub billybuc!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Brilliant! I know already that it'll be great - no pressure!

      You realise, of course, that I expect it to be in a hub?

      You have a good week, too! Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Listen to you, Ann, issuing challenges on a Monday. LOL You know, of course, that I love challenges, and I'm just stubborn enough to give it a go. I'll let you know when I have a finished product.

      Thanks as always my friend. Have a great week.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rachael, thank you for your kind words. Actually, your use of an epilogue in your recent hub is logical....and that is often the reason we see it used. I really have nothing against them...I just don't want to see writers fall in love with them. :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      An interesting and useful analysis of the epilogue, bill. I've never thought of using one but I do know that occasionally I like to find out a little more about 'what happened next..'

      You say that a poem might work well as an epilogue. That sounds like a good idea. You also say in various comments of yours regarding others' hubs, that you are not a poet. I would challenge you on that. If you can write so well, then you can be a poet.

      My personal challenge to you is to write a poem by choosing a random photo, either from your own archives or from a chance find online. In fact, use one of mine if you like. I dare you! Go on, have a go, bill! Already looking forward to reading it. Ann

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 3 years ago from United States

      lol I showed an "epilogue" in the closing of my 9/11 hub because I was tying up a bunch of loose ends I left in the hub and because I wanted to emphasize the upcoming deadline in case anyone skimmed (not read) the hub and missed that part. I didn't know where else to put the info, so I chose the word "epilogue." It was probably a poor choice of wording to use in a hub but it is a word I'm familiar with using.

      I use epilogues in some of my novellas for similar reasons you cited.

      I enjoy reading your hubs. I don't have much formal training in writing, I just like to write. It is nice to know I can still learn a lot more, especially with all the "teachers" on Hubpages, sharing their valuable knowledge.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I do too, Flourish. I enjoy a good epilogue that is....well....good. :) Thank you for stopping by on this Monday morning.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Audrey, the same with me. Most of them are not necessary at all.

      Thank you my friend and have a wonderful and creative week.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MG, I appreciate it very much. Thank you my friend.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This is useful! I always enjoy an epilogue with some good irony -- no happily ever afters here.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Really useful Bill! I read so many of them and wonder why they are there

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore

      Great education Billy. I follow your posts avidly

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well thank you breakfastpop. That was a very nice compliment for a Monday morning. Have a great week my friend.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      No one explains things better than you, billy. Up, interesting, useful and awesome.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I have real mixed feelings about epilogues. Many that I have seen were just the product of lazy writing...writers who thought they were Shakespeare. :) Thanks my friend and I hope this week is a productive one for you.

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Useful information once again, my friend. I just took a quick sweep through my library. It seems my favorite authors don't find epilogues as necessary components of their novels.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Anna! I'm not a big fan of epilogues, but I do see their value when we are talking about a series of books.

      I hope you have a wonderful week my friend.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      A teaser for the next big mystery. The books I generally read run in a series, and they use it to raise a question in the next book, as you said.

      You are always full of good advice and wise words.

      Anna :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine! I hope one day you are able to find the time to write that novel of yours. Have a great week my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, congratulations on the new, old business....and you are getting paid well? Well what a bonus that is. Hooray for you my friend.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      I loved the you used the classic movie, Animal House to make your point here, because truly is classic and you are right the use the epilogue quite simply and great example. You know I pinned, because I keep telling you these are definitely bountiful resources for me and huge thank you once again for this. Happy Monday, Bill!

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      carol stanley 3 years ago from Arizona

      I found this to be an interesting topic even though I will probably not ever write non fiction. For me an epilogue does let me know the future of the characters and I always welcome the closure. It is kind of the happily ever after of the store..However as you said sometimes it is just not necessary and even annoying when you are satisfied with the ending. Anyway wanted to make a few comments. Also I have a new business (actually an old one) and it is really fun to be doing it and getting paid well.