You need a clear reason for writing an epilogue, and it cannot be used to simply tie up loose ends, which you should do during your falling action. Without a proper purpose for including one, an epilogue might come across as anti-climatic deadweight, inadvertently signaling to your reader that you’re afraid your ending is so weak that he won’t be able extrapolate meaning from it without help. To avoid such potential problems, make sure your epilogue is enhancing your story in one or more of the following ways.
- Wrapping up story events after a traumatic or violent climax. This is an especially important technique when the ending is abrupt or surprising, as when a major character dies, or when the fate of the characters is not clearly depicted. If your ending raises more questions than it answers, you will need to rewrite it or create an epilogue to resolve this problem.
- Highlighting consequences and results of story events. Perhaps you’ve written a comeuppance story, or the ending features a major revelation. The epilogue will serve to assure the reader that justice has been dispensed.
- Providing important information that wasn’t covered in the climax or denouement. If a character was ailing in the story, you might want to explain his fate. Or, if a character becomes pregnant, the epilogue can explain the birth of the child. This can work especially well if the father dies or the child has special significance to the story.
- Suggesting the future for the protagonist and other characters. This is an important consideration in series fiction or if you’re planning a sequel. An epilogue might also be appropriate if a character undergoes severe physical, emotional, or psychological trauma, to assure the readers of his full or partial recovery.
- Making the story seem realistic. For example, if you’ve killed off a character, the epilogue can be written by another character to explain how things went down. Or, if you’re writing a story and the ending was literally explosive, the epilogue assures readers that the protagonist has survived.
- Providing data on your large cast of characters, especially if you’ve written a sweeping historical or epic. Often, with a large cast, it’s difficult to suggest the fate of every character. In Vanity Fair, William Thackeray wrote an epilogue titled “Which Contains Births, Marriages, and Deaths.” While this may seem old-fashioned to some readers, in a highly complex novel you can sometimes justify following the cast into the future.