Monday, August 23, 2010

Epilogues: when enough is not enough

Okay, so if you haven’t yet read excellent Meg’s post about prologues you should go do that at once. Go ahead. Scroll down the page a little. I’ll wait….

Fabulous isn’t it? And, if you read the comments, you’ll see I really love prologues too…didn’t read that far? Well, too late now. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Let’s continue.

The reason I mentioned Meg’s post first thing like this is because it inspired today’s post, which is all about epilogues. Unlike prologues, which I'm almost universally in favor of, my relationship with epilogues is definitely more of a love/hate thing—both as a writer and a reader.

Sure it’s neat, at times, to get a final glimpse of characters you’ve come to know and love over the course of a book or a series. It’s tempting for everyone to tie off those annoying loose ends. It’s satisfying to know that everything eventually ends up just the way you knew (or hoped) it would.

But what if it doesn’t? What if reader and writer are not in sync and the epilogue doesn’t take the reader where he or she wanted to go? A bad epilogue can absolutely ruin an otherwise good book. So isn’t it better to leave the possibilities open? Memorable characters, the kind we all want to write and we all love to read about, bring out proprietary feelings in everyone who gets to know them. Messing with that is a dangerous thing. Or it spawns fanfic—which could be a good thing.

Personally, I find fanfiction to be both liberating and empowering. In fact, my daughter lives for the day there’s an Oberon fanfic forum. She plans on appointing herself Keeper of the Canon, since she basically grew up with the series while it was being written and is one of the world's leading experts  on the subject. I’ve yet to break it to her how highly unlikely I think the possibility is that there will ever be an Oberon fanfic forum, so...shhh. Let's keep that to ourselves.

But there are other reasons to write an epilogue as well. Sometimes, the end of a story leaves unanswered questions about minor characters. Sometimes, if the book is one of a series, it’s necessary to provide hints about events that will take place in upcoming books but which have little to do with the current story. That was the case when I wrote the epilogue for Visions Before Midnight (Oberon: book 7). I had no plans to write an epilogue. I liked the ending I’d crafted for the h/h and I’d purposely squared away most of the supporting characters ahead of time so I could end things the way they were “supposed” to end.

The first draft was done and already in the hands of my CPs when I remembered that, in a last minute change to the story, the villain had unexpectedly returned to the scene and abducted one of my favorite minor characters. When the book ends, readers are left with no idea what has become of her.

An epilogue was therefore required. I couldn’t slip in the grim reality before the originally scheduled ending without seriously diminishing the HEA. And, in any case, her story had very little to do with the h/h.

I’m still mixed about it—even though I’m unexpectedly fond of that very last line. I’ve posted it on my blog, if you’d like to read it, and see what you think. It can be found at:  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

So what are your feelings on epilogues? Do you like things tied up with a pretty bow? Or left to your own imagination?


Skylar Kade said...

I'm in the love/hate camp, too. Love when the epilogue provides a cliffhanger to the next book (unless you're going to be waiting YEARS for it to come out) but tend to dislike those that fast-forward into the future to show everyone married with babies (especially if they were wizarding kids in the story). Just as you said--epilogues can be disastrous if they don't jive with what the reader wants to happen for the future of the characters.

PG Forte said...

Yes. And I think you've hit on exactly on one of the books I had in mind! When I finish reading a book I really love I always turn to the epilogue with a bit of trepidation. Sure, I want to know how it all turned out...but do I really?

Sometimes, I breathe a satisfied sigh of relief. Other times, I wish I'd just been left with a feeling of hope and a vague belief it would all work out just the way I wanted it to.

Meg Benjamin said...

I think it's because when you really love a book, you just don't want it to end. On the other hand, I can definitely see Skylar's point. Especially in a series, a fast leap ahead can be confusing since you know there'll be other stories to be told before the action in the epilogue happens.

Debra St. John said...

I used an epilogue in one of my stories. (Currently in some polishing/editing stages before I submit it.) I used it because there was one thread of the story line I wanted to tie up, but it wasn't long enough for its own chapter, but too long to fit on the end of the last chapter of the book.

Leah Braemel said...

I haven't got an epilogue in any of my current stories, but I do have one planned for my WIP. It jumps ahead about 40 years to the character's future so I can introduce a tie-in character to a contemp book who inspired the WIP in the first place. (A grandmother telling a story about her grandparents' relationship.)

I like epilogues for the most part, as long as they are scenes and not static wrap ups of "who is doing what now." If the author can skilfully show us what's going on with the characters instead without making a laundry list, it works a lot better.

Kelly Jamieson said...

I love being one of the Naughty Nine. You ladies are all so smart and talented.

Back to the question about prologues and epilogues. I like 'em. Mostly. When I really like an epilogue: when the romance has happened so fast (like say, in a romantic suspense story) that they haven't actually gotten to that "I love you, marry me, have my babies" point. I want to know it happens, though.

PG Forte said...

Good point, Kelly. I think that's probably the ones I like best as well.