Well, honestly, there are a few readers who have told me they hate epilogues on principle, but most (including me) love an epilogue that gives a glimpse of the HEA lived out.
That's the reason I wrote the free online Epilogue for "The Italian's Suitable Wife" & its companion book, "The Playboy's Seduction". I felt like readers deserved a glimpse of the characters I had in my head as their lives played out on my internal movie screen. :)
Wikipedia defines the Epilogue as this:
An epilogue, or epilog, is a piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama, usually used to bring closure to the work. The writer or the person may deliver a speech, speaking directly to the reader, when bringing the piece to a close, or the narration may continue normally to a closing scene.
And Merriam-Webster's has this entry for the Epilogue:
Etymology: Middle English epiloge, from Middle French epilogue, from Latin epilogus, from Greek epilogos, from epilegein to say in addition, from epi- + legein to say — more at legend
Date: 15th century
1 : a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work
2 a : a speech often in verse addressed to the audience by an actor at the end of a play; also : the actor speaking such an epilogue b : the final scene of a play that comments on or summarizes the main action
3 : the concluding section of a musical composition : coda
Epilogues aren't always about the character's lives months, or even years later. Sometimes, they're merely days or even immediately following the close of the literary work. Epilogues can wrap up story questions that remain unanswered once the main story arc is finished. I've done this satisfactorily a couple of times and a bit abruptly once. It's a dicey proposition and as I learn and grow as a writer, I realize what makes the best kind of epilogue and it's not always what I want it to be.
I don't mind growing in this way. If I stop learning and improving, I'm not giving the best I can to my readers and I know that. But I also think that just as with the Prologue, the Epilogue can be a tacked on tid-bit that wouldn't really be necessary if the author (me included) took their time improving the bits that came before (rather than after - as with the unecessary prologue).
Epilogues can also ruin a book. I've read more than one that I wanted to just bean the author for writing. Some have frustrated me so much, the author got put on my "be wary of" list immediately. I found that extremely disappointing - to have a book so engaging be absolutely ruined by a lousy epilogue.
My least favorite of these horrific episodes is George Bernard Shaw's Epilogue written for Pygmalion, so that no romantic should be in any way deceived into the thinking the end of the play led to any sort of happy ending. Oh, if he were still alive and near to hand, he'd get such an earful and probably a right boot to his backside. (Can you tell I've been re-reading Pygmalion? LOL)
But he wasn't the first and certainly not the last author to flip the hope of a happy ending, or make the one written seem trivial and wholly unbelievable. I remember reading an epilogue for a romance that left me wanting to rewrite the whole book, which right up to that point I had thoroughly enjoyed. Aargh...the pain of it!
I'm much more enamored of the author who writes an epilogue tying up loose ends and showing the HEA lived out in such a way that leaves me sighing happily and with a smile on my face.
It's your turn: do you have a favorite epilogue? An author who writes them consistently and you just love him/her for it? What about an epilogue that actually went as far as to save a book - or absolutely ruin it...?
I can't post my epilogues this week as that might be too much "Ending Spoilers" for any one blog to perpetrate, but if you'd like to read the special Epilogue I wrote for "The Italian's Suitable Wife" & "The Playboy's Seduction", you can find it here.