Not Your Typical Monday Post

Normally I would post fun and witty clips from either the Muppets or Monty Python, but today I decided to get away from it.  Again.  In all fairness last week was rather a big holiday, while today there really is no such reason beyond the desire to do something different and so I wanted to have a little chat about epilogues.  While it’s true not over many works, certainly not the majority of those published, contain an epilogue it still begs the question of what purpose they might have.  This is not to intend anything more than the very nature of a book and the subsequent understanding that an epilogue is supposed to be the “after story”.

When I was younger these things held great appeal to me; I was enamored with the happily ever after and the want of knowing in great, finite detail how far reaching that happiness was.  In the interest of being completely and brutally honest I should say I wanted schmaltz no matter how ridiculous or absurd.  Saccharin in books was my drug of choice and fulfilled fantasies I probably even now don’t even want to completely own up to having.  As my tastes have become more sophisticated, my nature more skeptical and, at times, cynical, I find the epilogue to mostly be an insult to all avenues of intelligence I value within myself.

As an author I look at epilogues and think if the information were necessary and vital to the story then it would have been contained within the story – not laid out as an afterthought bent on having a bleeding heart pour itself upon the concrete steps of my home – and begin to wonder what on earth the editor is thinking in letting them be published.  I understand that there truly is no hard and fast rule in the arts (if there were surely it wouldn’t be called  art but coloring/writing/painting by numbers) but is there ever a reason for an epilogue?  Have you read one that furthered the forward movement of the story?  Please share.

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27 responses to “Not Your Typical Monday Post

  • laurelrainsnow

    I think that I’ve enjoyed reading an epilogue when a story reached a certain point in time, with some issues resolved, but with questions remaining; in these cases, the epilogue could offer that peek into the possibilities. Usually it leaps ahead a few years.

    In some of the books I’ve written, there have been prologues and epilogues, while in others, I haven’t used them. In the prologue, we see a glimpse of the future before the story, while in the epilogue, we peek into the future beyond the story.

    Hmm, maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet to reflect on this! LOL

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lol, Laurel! What a hoot you are! Coffee is a vital necessity in the morning. 😉 I like the idea of epilogues that give peeks so long as it isn’t a way of doing an all too perfect finish on the characters’ lives. Perhaps that’s the difference between a good epilogue vs not?

  • Jemi Fraser

    I don’t know if I’ve ever read an epilogue that HAD to be there. Most of them are just obvious add ons. I’ll have to pay attention from now on 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      That’s where I come to with it as well, Jemi. I’m going to as well. I have this very unfortunate memory that recalls all the eye-roll inducing ones I’ve read and not much else. Could be because all the ones I have read ARE over the top OR simply that the others were so well done I didn’t recall them to be epilogues. Hmmm…

  • DL Hammons

    My impression of epilogues is that they are used to tie up loose-ends in a manner outside of the normal time-flow of the regular story (six months later, for example). I have no problems with calling them something different. To me, its all part of the story anyway.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Now that’s the way a good epilogue is done, in my opinion, DL. Perhaps a good question would then be what is considered a loose end? Too often I’m finding that in published works and in unpublished works the biggest question that doesn’t get enough scrutiny is this: What does the reader need to know? The bad epilogues (okay, and bad books) go with what the writer wants to write but not what is necessarily best for the story or its audience.

  • Carol Kilgore

    I agree with DL Hammons. I’ve written a story with an epilogue. The genre was suspense, and the purpose of the epilogue was to tie up a loose end with the antagonist, who was still at-large when the story ended.

  • Teresa

    I like reading epilogues just because when I finish a book, I’m not ready to let go yet. I’m insecure like that. 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      Teresa – There are some books I just want to go on forever and so feel the same way. Humorously enough THOSE books never seem to have epilogues! 😉

  • Laura Marcella

    Though I can’t recall ever reading an epilogue that was necessary to the story, I do like them. It’s interesting reading what the author has in mind for her characters years after the story has ended, especially after a book series (like Harry Potter!).

    In terms of prologues, I don’t like the ones that peek into a later scene in the novel. I understand the point is to tease the reader, but I usually forget all about it anyway. Seems kind of like a waste of space! I like the prologues that take place before the story has started and foreshadow something momentous. The best prologue I’ve ever read was in The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

    • lyndalepress

      In response to Laura Marcella’s comment – I *hated* the Harry Potter epilogue!! It felt like JKR was just pandering to audiences instead of writing her own story.

      • kimberlyloomis

        Anne – So there with you. I actually thought that epilogue was more a selfish endeavor than one for her readership. All those times of JK saying she had written the end YEARS before had me thinking the epilogue is that ending – with minimal (none?) editorial changes. Admittedly I was no great fan of book 7 but that epilogue pushed me from “meh” to “pffft”. 😉

    • kimberlyloomis

      Laura – I’m soooo with you on the prologue. The epilogue of HP7 though just, well, ugh… I didn’t like what Rowling did with that book anyway, but that epilogue had me solidly in the camp of “are you kidding me?!” That’s actually the pivotal book that got me going on an anti-epilogue bender. 😉 You do raise a good point there, though. I just wonder how relevant what the author has planned for her characters after the book ends is to the reader.

  • sara

    Shakespeare does a good epilogue.

    I admit to wishing that Margaret Mitchell had given Gone With the Wind one, just to satisfy my curiosity though it probably would have damaged the integrity of the book.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Sara – I totally agree with you. On all fronts. I would have loved to have known what Mitchell wanted after Rhett left Scarlett! At the same time an epilogue would not have satisfied me I don’t think and it wouldn’t have been as strong of an ending either. That’s why she needed to live to write the sequel herself. 😉

      • Corra McFeydon

        Mitchell never wanted a sequel. The story ended where it ended (she said.) She wrote the last chapter first. The whole story centered around that ending.

        If you want to see a sequel to GWTW fail, read Scarlett or Rhett Butler’s People. 😉

        Mitchell did say once, publically, that she hoped Scarlett got Rhett in the end.

      • kimberlyloomis

        I did read Scarlett and adored it. But it was not Gone with the Wind nor was it something I could truly process as a sequel. Hope that made sense… It was just a story about lively characters whom I enjoyed in the context of the book. I might not feel the same way if I read it now, however, as it has been about 15 yrs or so since I read it. Can only go on what my teen aged brain recalls about it. 😉

  • Lua

    I’ve never given that much of a thought to epilogues- I guess that speaks for itself. But just like any other rule in writing , it can be broken, bent, ignored or used excessively… As long as it is done well, it doesn’t bother me.
    That said, I can’t remember an epilogue that I read and thought “wow- that really changed the story and moved it forward!” 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lua – I think it’s what you last said that really strikes as true and consequently why I don’t get them. 😉

  • Helen Ginger

    Books usually have a short denouement following the big conclusion, but I’m not a fan of a separate epilogue. For one thing, if I really like the book, I’m hoping there’ll be a sequel with these characters. If I find out in an epilogue that they live happily ever-ever after, that spoils my anticipation. I agree with you that an epilogue shouldn’t be needed. The story should be within the story without after-thoughts.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Helen – I think you said it so much better than I did. After-thoughts are indeed just that and therefor not integral to the story.

  • Hart

    I actually like epilogs if they aren’t too tidy, though it may depend on the genre of the book–some stories (romance or mystery come to mind) have RESOLVED the question and to do an epilog after is overkill.

    I love the idea though, of the antagonist epilog–reminds me of Hannibal calling Clarisse during her awards ceremony–gives you a chill, even though THAT tension is over with. I think series call for them too, at the end of the last, though I agree with not liking the HP one (the rest of the series set the bar too high for it to be wound up that neatly… or something)

    • kimberlyloomis

      Hart – Totally agree with you about the genres and their uses of epilogue as well. Good comparison with Silence of the Lambs, too. That worked brilliantly for setting up the sequel and so I guess it did what an epilogue could be – create another question that needs to be answered in another volume. But another resolution is indeed overkill. 🙂

  • Corra McFeydon

    I actually haven’t read many epilogues, but I do agree with you. (If done poorly), they tend to ‘wrap up’ a story that might better resonate if left open-ended. If you conclude the tale for me, I have nothing to think about. I just think, ‘How nice,’ and move on.

    One of my pet peeves is a cheesy wedding scene at the end of a love story. Yuk! This is clearly the author’s fantasy wedding and doesn’t even slightly interest me. (I’m aware I might stand alone on this point…)

    Good thoughts here.

    – Corra

    The Victorian Heroine

    • kimberlyloomis

      Corra – Haha! I’m totally with you on cheesy wedding scenes! Despite my love of romance I can not stand the overdone saccharin ending. Always makes it feel a bit too much not like real life and, no matter how many may say they read these things for escape, part of the allure is the fantasy that it could happen. Unless it’s paranormal. OR someone has a thing for werewolves… 😉

  • laurelrainsnow

    Now that I’m more awake than I was in my earlier comment, I would like to note that I recently read a book with a TERRIBLE epilogue. It was like a summary of all the loose ends that hadn’t been tied up, but it felt rushed and added nothing good to the story. Sometimes it’s better to leave some loose ends…so the reader can speculate about what might happen.

    And, by the way, Kimberly, you stopped by my Collections blog earlier to leave a comment and congrats. on my blogoversary there and mentioned my makeover. Yes, I did do a major layout change there…I’m easily bored, I’m afraid. I do the same thing with my house. Rearranging things…

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