What is an Epilogue? A Peek Into the World Beyond “The End”

Abi Wurdeman
January 19, 2024
What is an Epilogue? A Peek Into the World Beyond “The End”

When you write an epilogue, you offer your readers a window to the future. You give them closure for the long journey they’ve taken with you. 

Or you go the opposite way and use a devastating epilogue to drive home your message of cynicism and despair, if you’re that kind of writer.

Either way, an epilogue can be a powerful storytelling device that invites your reader to think more deeply about your themes or engage with your story on a higher level.

But how is that any different from writing a strong final chapter? What is an epilogue exactly, and how do you know when to use one?

If you’ve been struggling to determine whether your story needs an epilogue, you’ve come to the right place. I’m about to answer all these pressing questions and provide plenty of epilogue examples to demonstrate the different roles this unit of storytelling could play in your narrative.

Let’s start by answering the big question: what is an epilogue? 

Epilogue Definition

A coin-operated telescope overlooking a city by the sea.

An epilogue is a scene or section that follows the conclusion of the main story and gives the reader a glimpse into the future. 

It’s sort of the opposite of a prologue—a passage preceding the primary story. Please note that you don’t have to have an epilogue if you have a prologue. Nor do you need a prologue if you have an epilogue. They can exist separately, together, or not at all.

Okay, but What is an Epilogue? Like, What Happens in One?

An epilogue might show how the protagonist’s life has changed over the long term as result of their transformation in the main story. It might demonstrate how the entire world has changed following a war or revolution. 

Some epilogues even pull away from the central narrative entirely, examining the story and themes from a new angle. We’ll explore this concept more when we check out the example from The Handmaid’s Tale later.

One thing nearly all epilogues have in common is that they take place in the distant-ish future, anywhere from a few months to several hundred years after the last chapter.

The Purpose of an Epilogue

The letters "THE END" stamped on a goldenrod background.

As a writer, you know your novel’s last chapter has to end strong. There has to be a sense of finality. 

So then what’s the point of writing an epilogue? Why continue a story that’s already reached its natural conclusion?

Glad you asked. Here are a few things an epilogue can do for your novel:

Tie Up Loose Ends

Palm trees and a sign reading "END."

Many writers answer the big questions before they get to the epilogue. 

Who wins the war? Will these two people realize they’re made for each other? Who killed who in the where with the what? These are things the reader finds out in the final scenes of the novel.

But your audience will probably have long-term questions about your characters, too.

Are the villagers safe forever now? What does Happily Ever After look like for this couple? Will the detective’s retirement plans pan out?

Now, these are loose ends you can keep loose if you prefer. Sometimes readers prefer to imagine the answers to these questions themselves. But you might find that your readers love having a clear view of your characters’ future.   

Reflect on a Theme

A person points at a dry erase board with the word "THEME" on it.

An epilogue can be a mighty tool for highlighting a theme. 

For example, you might write a sci-fi novel about a rebellion against authoritarian rule. The rebels win and establish a utopian society. Then you write an epilogue showing that 100 years in the future, someone finds a way to rise to power by manipulating the principles of that utopian society. 

This would support a theme stating that it’s impossible to design a society that’s immune to human greed.

An epilogue like that also might help you…

Tease the Sequel

You can also do this with your main story’s end. Nevertheless, an epilogue gives you a great opportunity to foreshadow the conflict that will drive the plot of your sequel.

This is especially useful if you plan to set the next book in the series farther into the future. If your sequel picks up just a few weeks after the first book ends, might as well just put your teaser in the last chapter.

Helpful Epilogue Examples 

A smiling person in glasses reads a book.

To get a clearer sense of how epilogues fit into the larger narrative they follow, let’s take a look at some classic examples.

There will be spoilers in this section. Feel free to skip to the next section if you’re not into that.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The final book in the Harry Potter series concludes with an epilogue showing the major characters nineteen years later. They’re all grown up with cool jobs and kids that are now attending Hogwarts.

This epilogue answers minor questions that may have blossomed in readers' minds throughout the series—things like “Will Harry get to have the cool wizard job he always wanted?” and “Is he the type to name his kids after every dead person he knows?”

And of course, it answers the most burning question with the final line: “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well." 

Yours Truly

Yours Truly revolves around two main characters who are terrified to fall in love because past trauma has convinced them they’re not lovable. Specifically, Jacob’s ex left him for his “more fun” brother (Jacob has an anxiety disorder) and Briana discovered her ex-husband was in love with someone else the whole time.

As the romance genre demands, they help each other work through their baggage and decide to take a chance on love. The epilogue fast-forwards to their wedding day, during which each of them finds small ways to reassure the other that they’re safe and loved in this relationship.

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare was all about using an epilogue to explain what the audience just saw, albeit in pretty poetic ways. (Modern literature is not so on-the-nose.) Romeo and Juliet ends with this quick little epilogue:

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd.
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

In short, “Things are sad now.”

How to Write a Great Epilogue

A writer types on a vintage typewriter.

Let’s say you decide to write an epilogue for your own novel. How do you make sure it rocks?

We actually have an article on that, and you can find it here. For now, I’ll give you a few quick tips.

Make Sure It’s Actually Necessary

Just because you can write an epilogue, that doesn’t automatically mean you should. Your readers might be perfectly satisfied with the information provided in your last chapter. And an unnecessary epilogue can really take the air out of an otherwise powerful ending.

Before you start writing that end-of-narrative follow-up, ask yourself what it actually adds to the story.

Focus on What Matters to Your Audience

As writers, it can be easy to get so psyched about the future narrative we’ve dreamed up for our characters that we completely forget to consider what the reader cares about.

While planning your epilogue, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. How do they want to feel when they finish your story? What would they want to know about your main character’s future?

Keep It Short

A good epilogue is a brief epilogue because the story part is pretty much over. This isn’t the time to introduce new characters or conflict unless you’re hinting at a sequel. Even then, you want to tease the drama, not draw the reader into a brand-new dilemma. 

For the most part, an epilogue just shows readers what’s going on in the future. Do that and get out before people get bored.

Epilogue vs. Your Main Story’s Conclusion

The word "conclusion" spelled out in yellow letter tiles on a blue background.

Now for the really tough question:

What makes an epilogue different from a story’s conclusion?

In other words, how do you know if something should be an epilogue or just a final chapter?

There’s no official answer. In fact, for nearly every epilogue that exists, you’ll find plenty of readers who argue that it could have just been the last chapter.

That said, authors are more likely to write a final passage as an epilogue if:

  • It takes place far in the future 
  • The entire scene is designed to get the reader to reflect on the story as a whole
  • It’s the end of a series and they’re offering closure on the journey the characters have endured
  • The story’s big questions have already been answered and this is just bonus material to tie up insignificant loose ends and satisfy reader curiosity
  • This section is told in a completely different tone, format, or point of view. (The Handmaid’s Tale is an example of this, as you’ll see in the next section.)

Significance of Epilogues in Literature

An e-reader propped up against a stack of books.

While it’s true that writing an epilogue is strictly optional, it’s also worth noting that this seemingly disposable story section has had a sizable impact on storytelling as an art form. 

Here are some ways the epilogue has made its mark on individual stories and literature as a whole:

Genre Expectations

While you always have a choice about whether or not an epilogue is right for your novel, it has become a semi-defining feature of certain genres.

Epilogues are huge in romance, for example. In this genre, an epilogue reassures the reader that the mandatory happy ending really is an “ever after” situation.

In the follow-up, readers get to see what the couple’s life looks like in the long term and how they’ve grown as individuals because of their relationship with one another.


A person sits on a hill at sunset, looking out at the view.

A great epilogue can challenge readers to think more deeply about the story itself. Some of the most celebrated works of literature close with an epilogue that sends the theme reverberating through the reader’s bones. For example…


The Handmaid’s Tale is told in the voice of the main character, Offred. Then the epilogue switches to a transcribed speech from a symposium set far into the future. 

The speaker is a historian lecturing on Offred’s dystopian narrative as he interprets it in the context of her time. His speech is exhaustingly pedantic in tone—a cold intellectualization of a nameless woman’s story of terror and survival.

Ultimately, it makes an unforgettable statement about who holds the power to both create and write history.



A good epilogue can help its reader let go of the story’s world and characters, satisfied that everybody’s going to be okay. This can be particularly impactful to readers who’ve stuck with a main character for an entire series. For example…


The novel Mockingjay closes the entire Hunger Games series with an epilogue that offers a look at Katniss’s life fifteen years after the conclusion of the story. 

Having journeyed with Katniss through big-time trauma, the reader is reassured that the heroine lived a free and fulfilled life in the end. Katniss is still haunted by the things she endured—who wouldn’t be?—but those events are now things her kids read about in history books. 


To Epilogue or Not to Epilogue?

A person holds a hand to their mouth, deep in thought.

It’s ultimately your call. You know better than anyone what’s best for your book. 

When in doubt, write it! See how it reads. The lovely thing about epilogues is that they’re brief, which means deleting them is (relatively) painless and blending them into the final chapter is (fairly) easy.

And while we’re on the subject of streamlined writing processes, have you met Dabble

This writing tool is great for anyone looking to do all their planning, plotting, drafting, revising, and formatting in one place. It’s got tons of features to keep you organized while leaving plenty of room to customize your Plot Grid, character profiles, story notes, and more.

You can snag a two-week free trial here. That gets you access to every single feature for 14 days, no credit card required.

So give it a shot! And let us know how this story ends.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.