What Is an Epilogue: Do You Need One

What is an epilogue? After the final chapter of the main story, the epilogue is a great way to tie up loose ends regarding the main characters. Learn more!

Have you ever read a great story but felt like there was something missing? Perhaps you got really invested in the characters and got frustrated that the story ended on a cliffhanger! One of the ways to bring the story to a close is through an epilogue.

An epilogue is separate from the main story but allows you to see the fates of the characters. The epilogue is one of the most important literary devices. Examples of epilogue have been employed in works such as Animal Farm by George Orwell, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Harry Potter, and the Deathly Hallows, and even numerous works by Shakespeare, such as Romeo and Juliet.

How do you write a good epilogue in your literary work, and when is it needed at the end of the story? Learn more about putting an epilogue at the end of a book!

An Overview of an Epilogue

What is an epilogue?

So, what is an epilogue? An epilogue is commonly used in fiction writing at the end of a story. It is a supplemental part of the main story, but it is still separate. An epilogue is commonly used to show the fates of characters and tie up any loose ends.

Usually, the epilogue is set at some point in the future. It might be set next week, or it might be set decades in the future. It depends on the way the story has been structured.

There are some cases where writers will use an epilogue to hint that another story is coming. This is particularly helpful if one book has to connect to another book in the series. 

The word itself comes from Greek Epilogos, and it was commonly used by Greek playwrights, poets, and other writers. It could communicate the moral lessons of the story, and it was commonly used in Elizabethan times. Epilogue itself means “conclusion word,” and it opposite of a prologue, which comes before the work.

Today, an epilogue is frequently used in drama, horror, and crime novels. In some cases, it shows that the evil that was discussed in the story is still out there, and that the characters have more work to do.

Importantly, an epilogue is not the same thing as an afterword. An afterward is more common in nonfiction works. It usually looks at the story from a different narrative perspective. You might also find our overview of what is Chekhov’s Gun useful.

What Should an Epilogue Do?

What is an epilogue?
An epilogue always has to tell readers what happened to the characters after the story ended

Not every work requires an epilogue, and there are some cases where it is simply not necessary. In general, writers should not use an epilogue unless they feel like they must. If the ending was satisfying, then an epilogue is probably not needed. If an epilogue is needed, it should only include information that is directly relevant to the main story. It also needs to help the reader better understand what has unfolded during the prior work. 

First, an epilogue always has to tell readers what happened to the characters after the story ended. The reader should be invested in the characters and want to know their fates. An epilogue is a way to let the readers know what happened to the characters following the end of the story. This can clear up any ambiguity that might be present. 

Second, an epilogue may set up the possibility of a sequel. One of the most common situations where writers will include an epilogue is where a sequel might be coming. In this situation, the epilogue should clearly let the readers know that they have not heard the last of these characters. This is a great way to get readers interested in a sequel. 

Finally, the epilogue should also reiterate the central message of the story. Is there a central theme to the story? Is there a lesson the readers are supposed to take away? If so, the epilogue may want to clearly let the readers know what the main point of the story was. 

Remember that an epilogue is separate from the main story, so the structure is not necessarily set in stone. It is okay to play around with the structure of the epilogue to highlight important points that readers are supposed to take away from the story with them. 

Final Word on What Is an Epilogue?

In the end, an epilogue is something that comes at the end of the story, but it is separate from the main story. Not every work needs an epilogue, and you should only include it if it is absolutely necessary. An epilogue is a great way to wrap up a few loose ends, highlight important points of the story, and let the reader know what happened to the characters.

A lot of writers will include an epilogue that there is a sequel coming. If you are planning on writing another book, you may want to get people invested in the next story in the series. One of the ways to do this is to use an epilogue to set up the next installment, such as the Harry Potter series or the Hunger Games.

Storytelling Resources

A Storytelling Guide: Step-By-Step, With Examples

First vs Third Person Point of View: What Makes Sense for Your Story?

How to Write a Story Outline that Works: 9 Steps

The Hero’s Journey: Explained In 12 Steps

The Inciting Incident: 7 Tips For Starting Your Story With A Bang

Synopsis Example: How To Write A Winning Summary Of Your Story

Allegory vs Parable: What Are the Differences?

7 Types of Conflict in Literature Worth Exploring

12 Character Archetypes To Drive Your Writing

FAQs About What Is an Epilogue?

What is the purpose of an epilogue? 

An epilogue comes at the end of the story, but it is a separate part of the story from the main narrative. You can use an epilogue to let your readers know about the characters’ lives or tie up any loose ends that were not brought to a close at the end of the final chapter. 

How long is an epilogue?

An epilogue is relatively brief. You should not make the epilogue any longer than it has to be. Once you feel like you have tied up the loose ends in the story, you should bring the epilogue to a close. This could be a happily ever after or happy ending of the main story.

  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.