Thursday, September 13, 2007

In Defense of Epilogues

Dave's comment in the series vs. stand alone post (link) below got me thinking about epilogues. The key thing to remember about epilogues and prologues is that they are a writing tool, nothing more, nothing less. Use them well and readers will go for them as is demonstrated by the many popular titles with one or the other or both. Use them poorly and... You get the picture.

I hate to deny myself any of the tools of the trade and I personally like epilogues both as a reader and as a writer. So, in defense of epilogues done well:

1. An epilogue allows the reader a chance to decompress. In my books at least the pace tends to pick up fairly steadily as things move along until thing are going hella fast by the end of the climax. For the reader the epilogue acts like the cool down period for a runner–they're still involved in the action but they get the chance to get their breath back. They can see that the dreadful wounds taken by the hero will heal with time, and that the relationships of the story will continue to grow and evolve.

2. Having a scene that looks back on the action of the book from a calmer perspective can allow the transmission of details and ideas that are important to the building of character and world details that were inappropriate to put in during the main action for reasons of POV, pacing, or simply the stress of the moment. A lead character looking back and trying to make sense can put together things that would have taken too much space in the main narrative, and can often even do it with much less text than would have been necessary at the time.

3. They can give the author the chance to reassure the reader that important side characters who fell by the way for one reason or another during the course of the main action are all right, or died nobly, or whatever.

4. Happily ever after. Depending on the sort of book you're writing and whether it's the end of the story or not, the epilogue offers the opportunity to give the reader a happily ever after moment. Not everyone likes happily ever after, but I think it's a darn fine way to end a story.

5. Ongoing story. In a series an epilogue can serve double duty by wrapping up important details of the arc of the book for readers while simultaneously reminding them that there is a bigger arc that will be carried on over more books. That's what the one in CodeSpell is supposed to do, show you how things turned out in the weeks immediately after the climax moment–including recovery from various things that need to be recovered from–while also reminding the reader of an important loose end from the two previous books and assuring the reader that it will be investigated.

6. Subplots and side stories. An epilogue can allow the author to show the reader that the rest of the world kept right on going even though it wasn't a part of the main action. This can help create greater depth of world and character. I think that "The Scouring of the Shire" in the Lord of the Rings is a great example of this latter. LOTR has something like five chapters of epilogue, though it doesn't call them that.

7. Saying goodbye and reader service. As a reader, when I really like a story I don't want to leave and if I'm just suddenly kicked out as soon as the central problem is resolved I can get very cranky. Spending time with the characters and the world after all the craziness has finished gives me a chance to let go without feeling kicked out.

I'm sure there are other argument for epilogues, just as I know there are arguments against. If y'all would like to play, come and join me in the comments.

p.s. I'll post the rest of the series post in a day or two.

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