Sunday, September 8, 2013
Epilogues: Epi-log Off Already!
I'm not actually opposed to epilogues; I really just wanted to use that title. But I do know that there are a lot of people who cringe whenever they see an epilogue lurking in the back of a book, reading to spin the plot out s little bit longer, which is usually the last thing a book needs.
Knowing where to end a book is a beautiful talent that so many authors have. Sometimes it's nice to end things at the point where the main conflict is resolved, but not every tiny thread is all tied up. A place that will make you continue to think and wonder about these characters and the world you've left behind, but that still satisfies you emotionally. There are books where we only get treated to a small portion of a character's life, and that's all we need or want.
But I recently read a book (that I loved, by the way) that could have used an epilogue. Just a tiny baby one that lets me know what happens. Just a little one that shows me the main couple finally being coupley after four hundred pages of waiting for them to get it on.
Apparently never, Phoebe. Apparently, because it's implied, we're not going to be treated to some voyeurism while we watch our ship make out. Because sometimes authors end books (*cough cough Requiem*) WAY too prematurely, and you're left without really knowing what happens to the characters or the world you've been swiftly kicked out of. I like a gentle, loving exit from a fictional world, a fond farewell, a slow and tender handheld walk to the door (particularly in a series, in which I have invested ENORMOUS amounts of energy). I do not like it when a cane comes out from stage right and hooks me off before I'm ready (mixed metaphors FTW).
There's a word for those events that occur after a climax: denouement. According to Wikipedia, a denouement...
"comprises events from the end of the falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader."
If you don't get that sense of catharsis from the plot itself... well, I'd recommend the author write a bit more stuff in the denouement, actually, and avoid an epilogue entirely, but if they're opposed, they should throw in a quick epilogue that does give you that sense of release. Do whatever it takes to give your readers that release and sense of resolve.
Sometimes, though, epilogues are over-kill.
I'm divided on the most famous of YA epilogues, and the one you're probably all thinking of: the one at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with its nineteen year jump and unparallelled schmaltziness. Was it oozing in saccharine? Yes. Was it technically necessary? Well, no. The plot was most assuredly resolved in the preceding chapters. Did I actually like it? I did. Don't tell. When I spend a decade of my life obsessing over a world as dense as HP, I feel I've earned a little canon fan-fiction, and J.K. was kind of enough to give me the answers.
But Harry Potter was basically the only series I'd allow that from. Most books that toss on lengthy epilogues (Twilight, to name one) do so after the denoument and catharsis and all that. The tension is completely gone, so there's no reason to continue reading. We read to find out endings, to release tension, and let go. Once we've let go, we don't want to book to cling to us. It's deadly to have a great ending and then just... not... end...
They should just stop, already.
No, seriously, book. It's time to go. We've eaten all the dessert. Drunk all the tea and coffee. It's getting late. The dinner party is over. Go home. No, stop talking, please, the story is OVER. Stop. STO--
So what do you think about epilogues? Fanfiction for authors, or a treat for readers? Which epilogues have you loved or hated?