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In literature, an epilogue is a chapter added at the end of a novel, short story, play, or even poem. Epilogues can also appear in works of nonfiction. After the climax in a work of fiction, an epilogue shows the reader, or viewer in the case of a play, what happened to the characters after the story ended. The epilogue can also be used to hint at a sequel to the current story, or to show that the characters’ problems might not truly be over, a popular technique in horror and suspense stories.
Many fiction writers use epilogues to provide closure for the readers or viewers who, after having invested in the characters during the course of the narrative, might want to know the fates of those characters. The epilogue can also be used to tie up loose ends, resolving issues that were brought up in the narrative but not resolved before the story’s climax. An epilogue can take place at any time after the story has ended; it can be set a few hours later, the next day, or several decades into the future. Epilogues are often used to show the protagonist of a story leading a happy and contented life after surviving the upheaval and strife he experienced during the narrative.
Epilogues aren’t always used to show a happy ending to a character’s story. In many literary works, especially those in which an anti-hero is the lead character, the epilogue might show that character finally suffering the consequences of his poor moral choices. In many horror and suspense novels, the epilogue is used to hint at a lingering threat. The characters might believe the monster or villain has been defeated, but the epilogue shows that the danger isn’t over, and the characters aren’t as safe and secure as they might believe. The epilogue can also be used to show that a story isn’t truly over, and there will be another installment or sequel.
Sometimes, after a novel, short story or play is over, the writer will “step out of the story” and speak directly to the reader or audience. At the end of some plays, a character will step forward to thank the audience for watching the play. In some fables, the writer or storyteller will directly describe the lesson or moral the characters and readers should have learned from the story. After a non-fiction book about true events has been published, an epilogue might be added in later editions, giving an account of what happened after the events depicted in the book.