Dear Authors: I’m Begging You to Stop Epiloguing

One of my favorite books when I was younger was Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. It had everything a girl with my interests could have hoped for: a plucky heroine, rebellion, a fantasy setting, court intrigue, epistolary romance… I adored it. When I got to the end of the book, however, I discovered something strange.

The last ten pages of the book promised a never-before-seen addition to the story. Excited to read more about Mel and Danric and the rest, I eagerly turned the page… to discover that the addition was a trite and honestly embarrassing epilogue. It was tooth-rottingly saccharine, and turned the kickass protagonist into a wilting flower too nervous to talk honestly with her husband. I didn’t have much of a critical eye at age eleven, but even then I knew it was a shitty writing decision. So why are so many authors going the way of the epilogue now? It’s terrible in so many ways, and it needs to stop.

harry.potter.hallows.2.

Just. No.

The first problem of epiloguing is that it’s just plain bad writing. Part of what makes a good story good is a clear knowledge of when it should start and end. (This means prologues are often regrettable as well.) If the story goes on and on after the actual plot has been wrapped up, it just feels like the writer is unable to let go. Death of the author is one of my favorite things about fiction—I’d much rather spend a day headcanoning or reading fanfiction than being abruptly informed of the author’s fully realized vision for the rest of the characters’ lives. Death of the author allows you to explore the untapped potential in a story and let your imagination fill in the gaps, rather than being told outright that x thing happened and that’s that.

Even a simple “and they all lived happily ever after” is less frustrating than the epilogues we are typically given, because that gives you some range to come up with a variety of happy endings. Especially grating is the implication from every corner that a happy ending is necessarily “domestic, heterosexual bliss with the person they dated as a teenager and the job they wanted when they were fourteen”. It’s so hard for me to relate to Katniss and Peeta smiling at each other over their children’s heads—especially when Katniss spent the entire series swearing she would never reproduce—or a whole herd of ninja running around Konoha looking like more like they were grown in a laboratory to equally resemble both their parents than they were gestated the usual way. Harry’s an Auror! Naruto’s the Hokage! And none of the world-changing, nearly life-ending experiences they had served to change that.

Please. Why.

Please. Why.

I want anyone to look me in the face and tell me that after years of doing nothing but being chased by and chasing evildoers because he had no other choice, Harry James Potter would opt for the one profession where he’d be stuck doing that for the rest of his life. Look me dead in the eye and tell me that an adult Uzumaki Naruto, childhood dream and legacy or not, would spend his teenage years cleaning up former Kages’ messes and still decide he wanted to be the political head of a village full of trained assassins. Tell me that both of these famous and well-traveled men would end up marrying and settling down with the same girls they’d crushed on since they were thirteen. Nothing is remotely different from how you could have predicted it would go sometime back in 2005. It’s not particularly exciting to find out that your fictional faves grew up to be just like your parents because their Boomer-aged author can’t imagine young people growing up with any other goal in mind.

Basically, if you are going to add onto your story, it needs to be an addition that both improves on and continues to expand on the original universe, and an epilogue simply can’t do that. They’re too short, for one thing. There’s no way to expand or improve on a theme or a character that you spent hundreds to thousands of pages developing in a dozen pages at the end (or minutes, if we’re talking movies). You’re better off writing an entirely new story set in the same universe, and even that can go wrong.

JK Rowling’s ongoing expansion of the Harry Potter universe may be continuing to build out on her original series, but it’s an ever-more-rickety building, and more and more of the flaws in the architecture are showing the more she tells us.

Pictured: a sturdier structure than anything JKR's tried to build since.

Pictured: a sturdier structure than anything JKR’s tried to build since.

While the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie will give us more detail about the workings of magic in America, I wouldn’t call its predominantly white cast an improvement. Between that and all the nonsense JKR has put out about Ilvermorny, the only wizarding school in America which is both a British-style boarding school and a racist trashfire, and I’d argue that all she’s doing is weakening the power of the original franchise by oversaturating the market of readers’ imaginations with her own Word of God. And race isn’t the only place where the Harry Potter expanded universe is stagnating—from the first declaration that Dumbledore was gay (but not gay enough for it to be mentioned in the books), to the thorough Al/Scorpius queerbaiting in the Cursed Child play, her story where love conquers all is really, really dedicated to heterosexuality.

A good example of what to do instead of any of the things I’ve just complained about it Star Wars: The Force Awakens. TFA brings us back to many of the same characters, places, and conflicts from both the original and prequel trilogies. However, it doesn’t force a happily ever after down our throats. Because honestly—the idea that some insurgents could destroy the leader of a galaxy-wide government and then just… slip into democracy and peace—that’s absurd. There would obviously be fallout from the war. There would obviously be people who pushed back against the New Alliance government. It’s not hard to believe that Han and Leia’s marriage, forged in the heat of rebellion while they were both young and high-spirited, might suffer from both their own personality clashes and the further stress of losing their son to the Dark Side. The Force Awakens is good storytelling because it doesn’t try to get us to believe that once one battle has been won, everything will be great forever.

Neo_Queen_SerenitySailor Moon’s Neo Tokyo is another example of how to subvert bad epiloguing. We learn very early on in the Dark Crystal arc that Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask eventually get married, have a child, and become Neo Queen Serenity and King Endymion, ruling their idyllic new utopia from their Moon Palace. However, because we’re given that ending in the middle of a story arc in only the second season of the show, it no longer becomes the corny bow on top of the completed story. Instead, it’s a future that is no longer guaranteed thanks to Wiseman and his minions, and the Sailor Scouts have to battle these evil forces to protect this happy ending. We understand from Wiseman’s defeat that the future has been secured, without being battered over the head with it as part of the conclusion of the arc.

Epilogues and their ilk are often irredeemably bad. They often conflate what an author thinks their character deserves after their adventures—a happy ending, a cheerful marriage, a herd of children—with what the character would actually want, given all the development they’ve had over the life of the story.

However, that doesn’t mean that continuing a story is necessarily bad. Continuing and building on a story’s themes and morals can be great ways to deepen your world and make audiences actually consider the effects past storylines would have on future character development. But epiloguing doesn’t do that. Having an epilogue often means that no matter what the original story was about, every character is going to get shoved into a cookie-cutter heterosexual marriage with 2.5 kids because that’s what everyone wants, right? Of course not. That doesn’t add to a story—it just pushes the author’s idea of a happy ending on everyone else and onto their audience, and it needs to stop.


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9 thoughts on “Dear Authors: I’m Begging You to Stop Epiloguing

  1. I agree with you mostly although I was perfectly fine with the Naruto epilogue (not all the extra Boroto stuff and whatnot that came later but the ten page manga epilogue) and the Harry Potter epilogue (again not the play and all the crazy Pottermore that came later). I have mixed feelings about epilogues because sometimes (depending on the series) I feel like the show/book/etc. can’t really give us a satisfactory ending right now so jumping ahead to the wedding day or a glimpse of the character having what they always wanted is okay. A lot of times it is unnecessary.

    I don’t think epilogues need to be super detailed. I actually prefer short epilogues like the endings of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mysteries (basically a wrap-up report in the P.I.’s case folder stating what happened next). It gives a quick wrap up but it needs to be natural. I never bought Peeta and Katniss and their picture perfect ending. It seemed highly unrealistic.

    Neo Crystal Tokyo was an interesting concept which had some of its own failings. Mostly I wanted more from that future world. Did the others settle down or were they the end of the line? Usagi could pass down her mantle to ChibiUsa but could the others (what would happen if there were no suited scouts in the future after them)? Where were the Outers (were they chilling on their own planets)? It was an epilogue wrapped up in the middle of the story with almost no actual detail. Usagi and Mamoru together? Well sure. Of course they had a pink-haired kid (which let’s be honest is literally impossible with their genes unless Usagi’s father was rocking bubblegum hair and one of Mamoru’s parents as well–BLACK AND SILVER DO NOT MAKE PINK!). Also why did Usagi lose the ability to transform? Clearly the crystal was still super-strong. Why did Mamoru decide to rock lavender? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS!?

    The biggest issue for me is J.K. Rowling being unwilling to let go of Harry Potter. She keeps saying she’s done but she keeps putting out more and more and more. The problem is most of it is junk and it’s cluttering up the real stuff. So much has been added to the canon at this point I feel like I don’t know what is real anymore. I loved that series but the rest of the material is starting to bog it down. With every announcement I become more and more soured to the source material.

    Anyway thanks for the article and the space to rant.

  2. Crystal Tokyo fanfictions are my favorite thing to read – it’s so open-ended, its a gold mine of opportunities. Sure Wise Man was defeated, but what stops another threat from happening? Obviously the Utopia of Crystal Tokyo is anything but, so what do the normal citizens feel about the place and how it’s ran? Have there been anymore revellions, how are the other Senshi doing? I’ve read sooo many amazing Crystal Tokyo fanfics that prove your points in this aticle here.

  3. It really is true that endings can be so much more interesting when authors leave them somewhat open ended.

    I can think of several mangas that would have done well without their ‘epilogues’. Most of them CLAMP mangas (*cough* Xxxholic *cough).

  4. Kill la Kill’s OVA is another example of a good epilogue. While it does put a neater bow on things, it’s not so clean cut and optimistic that it goes against everything the characters struggled through, and it still leaves plenty to the imagination.

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  6. I like reading long info-dumping prologues in fiction, such as those providing by William Makepeace Thackeray and Victor Hugo; consequenty, I will not be corrupted by any of your diatribes from writing them incessantly and shamelessly.

  7. For me the ending of The Hunger Games – Katniss, Peeta, children – never was about a happy ending, I read it as bitter sweet. The bitter part was that she ended up in the end in something she never wanted, that she was’nt able to fully make her own decisions until the end. The sweet part was that it was at least with people she cared about like Peeta and Haymitch. But that really the heterosexual happy ending when lived by Katniss isn’t the happy ending she deserved. But it’s a long time since I have read the book and a heteronormative intention behind the writing is probable I assume.
    I like epilogues that give little glimpses of the ongoing, not so much in the sense “by the way, that’s how it was afterwards, everything’s settled” but rather that open windows to other possible stories in the future, that remind us that there is always a life afterwards. Or in some of my favourite fanfics I like the less dramatic scenes in the epilogues, glimpses of everyday lives that don’t lay it all out (Job, housing situation, social life, social status what not). Because sometimes I don’t get enough “normal time” with my characters and to get that in little scenes in the epilogue I quite enjoy.
    But I agree as well, I could live with a lot fewer epilogues for sure – good, poignant endings are wonderful.

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