What is an Epilogue? Fiction Writers’ Guide to Memorable Endings

Relay Publishing
7 min readOct 11, 2023

Let’s talk about endings. You’ve poured your heart and soul into crafting a compelling story, and now you’re faced with the challenge of wrapping it up in a way that does justice to the journey you’ve taken your readers on.

Endings can be just as vital as beginnings, setting the stage for how your story will resonate in the minds of your readers.

It’s a delicate balancing act–tying up loose ends, satisfying your readers’ curiosity, and leaving them with a sense of closure, all without making the story feel overly drawn out or resolved.

This is where an epilogue comes into play, acting as a literary encore that gives you the opportunity to provide additional insights, resolutions, and a glimpse into the future of your characters.

But what exactly is an epilogue, and how can you write one that leaves a lasting impression on your readers? That’s precisely what we’re going to explore in this article.

By the end of this post, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to craft a captivating epilogue that’ll give your story the perfect finishing touch.

What’s an Epilogue?

An epilogue is a distinct section found at the end of your story that offers a bit more insight into the lives of your characters once the main plot has reached its conclusion.

It serves as a bridge between the story’s climax and the characters’ futures, allowing readers a glimpse into how the events of the story have impacted the lives of the protagonists and other significant characters.

An epilogue sets itself apart from a final chapter in a few ways:

  • Temporal shift: Unlike the final chapter, which usually follows the natural progression of the story’s timeline, an epilogue often jumps forward in time. This time leap can range from a few months to several years or even decades, depending on the needs of your narrative. The purpose of this temporal shift is to show the long-term consequences of the story’s events and how the characters have evolved or adapted in response to them.
  • Focus on resolution: While a final chapter focuses on tying up any remaining plot threads and resolving conflicts, an epilogue goes a step further by offering readers a sense of closure that extends beyond the story’s immediate events. This closure often relates to the characters’ personal growth, relationships, or the wider world they inhabit.
  • Brevity: Epilogues are generally shorter than other chapters, as their primary goal is to provide a concise, impactful glimpse into the characters’ futures. They should be just long enough to offer the necessary insights and emotional resonance without overstaying their welcome or diluting the story’s impact.
  • Narrative style: Although an epilogue can maintain the same narrative style as the rest of your story, it also has the flexibility to change things up. You might choose to write your epilogue from a different character’s perspective, switch from first-person to third-person narration, or even incorporate a letter, diary entry, or newspaper article to convey information. The key is to ensure that the narrative style you choose aligns with the purpose of your epilogue and enhances the reader’s understanding of your characters’ futures.

In short, an epilogue serves as a unique storytelling tool that allows you to provide additional insight and closure for your characters as well as your readers.

The Purpose of an Epilogue

An epilogue serves a few essential functions in your story, such as:

Providing closure and resolution

Sometimes, it’s tough to wrap everything up neatly in your final chapter–an epilogue can help you tie up those loose ends and give your readers the closure they crave.

Explaining the fate of principal characters

Your readers have invested time and emotion in your characters, so they’ll likely want to know what happens to them. An epilogue can provide a glimpse into their future, whether it’s happily ever after or something a bit more bittersweet.

Setting the stage for potential sequels or spin-offs

If you’re planning on writing a sequel or a spin-off, an epilogue can lay the groundwork and generate interest in future stories.

Crafting an Effective Epilogue

Now that we’ve covered the purpose of an epilogue, let’s talk about how to write one that’ll stick with your readers:

Timeframes: Present vs. Future

Most epilogues take place in the future, but you can also set yours in the present if it makes more sense for your story. Just remember that the key is to offer new information and insight into your characters’ lives.

Choosing the right narrative style

Whether you stick with the same narrative style you used throughout your story or switch it up is up to you. Just make sure it feels natural and fits the tone of your story.

Deciding which characters to include

You don’t have to include every character in your epilogue, but make sure to touch on the fates of the principal ones. Your readers will appreciate the closure.

Balancing information and emotional impact

An epilogue should be informative, but it should also pack an emotional punch. Strive for a balance that leaves your readers feeling satisfied and maybe a little teary-eyed.

Tips for Writing a Compelling Epilogue

Ready to give your story that perfect ending? Here are some tips to help you write an unforgettable epilogue:

1. Know your audience

Think about who you’re writing for and what they might want to see in an epilogue. Consider their expectations and try to meet or exceed them while staying true to your story.

2. Keep it concise and focused

An epilogue isn’t the place for lengthy digressions or excessive detail. Keep it short, sweet, and focused on providing closure and resolution.

3. Stay true to your story’s tone and theme

Your epilogue should feel like a natural extension of your story, so maintain the same tone and themes that you’ve established throughout the narrative.

4. Avoid unnecessary surprises or plot twists

While it might be tempting to throw in one last twist, an epilogue should provide closure, not leave your readers with more questions. Keep things clear and satisfying.

5. Show character growth and development

In a well-crafted epilogue, your characters should exhibit some form of growth or development as a result of the story’s events. This could be a change in their beliefs, attitudes, or relationships, or even a newfound sense of purpose.

6. Use symbolism and imagery to reinforce themes

An effective epilogue often employs symbolism and imagery that echo the themes of your story. This technique can help drive home the messages and emotions you want your readers to take away from your narrative.

7. Leave room for interpretation

While an epilogue should provide closure, it’s also essential to strike a balance between answering questions and leaving some room for interpretation. Allowing your readers to draw their own conclusions about certain aspects of your characters’ lives can make your story more thought-provoking and memorable.

When to Use (or Not Use) an Epilogue

Not every story needs an epilogue, and it’s essential to recognize when one is necessary or beneficial. Here are some guidelines to help you decide:

Identifying when an epilogue is necessary or beneficial

If your story feels incomplete or leaves readers hanging, an epilogue might be just what you need to bring everything together. If there are still unanswered questions or unresolved plot lines, an epilogue can provide the closure your readers are looking for.

Recognizing when to end a story without an epilogue

On the other hand, if your story feels complete and resolved, you might not need an epilogue. Sometimes, leaving a bit of ambiguity can be powerful and thought-provoking. Trust your instincts and the feedback of your beta readers or editor to help you make this decision.

Wrapping Things Up

Writing an epilogue can be a powerful technique for bringing closure and resolution to your story, leaving your readers with a strong emotional impact and a sense of satisfaction.

When considering whether to include an epilogue, think about the overall narrative arc, your characters’ journeys, and your readers’ expectations.

If you feel that there’s more to say or that your audience would appreciate a peek into the future, an epilogue may be the perfect way to wrap things up.

In the end, trust your instincts as a writer and listen to feedback from others. Writing is a deeply personal and creative process, and only you can truly know what your story needs to feel complete.

Whether you choose to include an epilogue or let your final chapter stand as the conclusion, the most important thing is to stay true to your vision and give your readers an experience that they’ll cherish and remember.

Harry Wallett is the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing. Combining his entrepreneurial background with a love of great stories, Harry founded Relay in 2013 as a fresh way to create books and for writers to earn a living from their work. Since then, Relay has sold 3+ million copies and worked with 100s of writers on bestselling titles such as Defending Innocence, The Alveria Dragon Akademy Series and Rancher’s Family Christmas. Harry oversees the creative direction of the company, and works to develop a supportive collaborative environment for the Relay team to thrive within in order to fulfill our mission to create unputdownable books.

Relay Publishing Wants You

If you think you have what it takes to become a brilliant writer, editor, or storyliner, Relay Publishing has a range of exciting opportunities.

Find out more about us, and get in touch. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Republished with permission from Relay Publishing

--

--

Relay Publishing

Relay has founded a collaborative environment for literary creatives to exercise their skillset and develop their craft across a multitude of fiction genres.