We are reaching the end our first week of the A-to-Z Blog challenge. This brought to you by the letter E. Yeah, I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with that lame joke. Our words for today is Epilogue and Exposition. Two words that many writers should be familiar with, but like many of my posts, I will try to reveal more than you ever wanted to know.
I thank everyone for their support and would love to hear from you on how much you are enjoying this. Please leave your comments below.
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The elusive epilogue. It is generally the last chapter of a book that often brings closure to the characters. Sometimes the closure to the book is more about the characters and less about the plot of the book. It is also a good place to open up to a possible sequel.
Wasn’t that my explanation of Dénouement?
Well, close to it. While it sounds very similar to the Dénouement, there is a difference between the two. Dénouement deals directly with the conflict of the story, proceeding the climax, whereas Epilogue does not have to have any direct relation to the plot. The Epilogue may come minutes to years after the end of the story.
The Epilogue has come under attack by many writers, under the premise that it is unnecessary to a book. They are certainly correct, as it is not necessary. However, like all things, it is something that can enhance your book, if done correctly. While I won’t go into how to do it, I will discuss the pro’s and cons about epilogue. Epilogue is not just specific to a book, as it can be seen in films.
Hard to think that there is an Epilogue to a movie as the whole thing appears to be part of the story, there is little indication of a split from the story to extra story. One example is after the credits. While Marvel wasn’t the first to do this, they were certainly more famous for having a bit of storyline at the end of their credits. Such as Iron Man when we see Nick Fury talking to Tony Stark.
Another example of this, such as the film Animal House, is getting a montage that explains what is the future of our characters. This was more popular in the 70’s and 80’s, not something seen too much anymore. The last film I saw it in was Loser with Jason Biggs.
These are examples of Epilogue, that give us a glimpse of what happens to our characters in the future, either letting us know what happens to them, or showing us the direction they are taking. One last example that kind of shows you a good but weird one was the end of Men in Black when we see our universe is simply a marble.
Back to the part where people don’t like epilogue. Especially by writers.
Many writers suggest you avoid them. Why? One viewpoint is that it is extra meaningless story that may ruin what a story actually is. That by going into details of what happens to your characters, takes away from the reader deciding for themselves what happened. There is also the philosophy that if it is crucial for the story, then it should be said in the story. Like the Prologue, people often times skip the Epilogue, and if they do that, then they might miss that crucial detail.
The main difference between an Epilogue and Dénouement is that a Dénouement is important to a story and an Epilogue is something extra. While you can have a story without the Dénouement, I wouldn’t recommend it.
I remember getting burned by an Epilogue, which always makes me hesitant in reading them. It was from the series, My Teacher is an Alien (boy does that take me back), the Epilogue to the series had the main character talk about how the character was really the reader (me) and all that happened, happened to the reader. It was honestly a slap in the face, I read all four books and yet you need to tell me it wasn’t real. I would have been happy if I didn’t read the last chapter. While I knew that it wasn’t real, it took away the immersion I had to the story. Did the author think that someone might thing there was a group of aliens who considered destroying Earth as we were a threat to the peace of the entire galaxy?
But forget what other writers say. You are your own man, or woman, or both, or neither (I digress); break the rules and do what you think is best. And let me be the first to tell you, there does come a time where “…happily ever after” is not good enough for an ending. So what are some reasons for having an Epilogue:
- You feel something was left unsaid or undone in the story, tying up loose ends or revealing more of other characters
- You want something that shows where the story could go in the next book.
- You want to say something about the moral or message of the story
- The ending to your story ends abruptly because of a character’s death or fast resolution
- What is the consequences to what happened elsewhere in the world
OK, I think I’ve said all that can be said on Epilogue.
Exposition, when done right, is critical to the success of a story. When done wrong, can often lead to it’s failure if there is not enough. However, it is possible to do too much exposition. Like baby bear’s portage, it need to be just right.
When creating a world, it is literally a blank page. As readers, we can’t see in your head. Through words, you need to tell us about the world, about the people in it, about the why and how things work. More importantly, who are the characters.
Exposition is like a delicate flower. To little care, and the plant will die. To much attention, and the plant will die. You need just the right touch. We don’t want to ignore explaining the world around us, especially at the beginning. At the same time, we don’t need a detailed explanation of everything around us. More than that, we don’t need a detailed explanation of what our characters look like.
This is a challenge, and the best approach is the rule of “showing, not telling.” It’s a challenge to do with exposition. The rule is hard enough to do, but to describe the world without just telling people what they should see, is a writers first real challenge. The trick is, some things you show and some things you tell.
Too much telling and not a lot of showing is called info dump. This is where you simply tell everyone everything that is going on, and you explain everything people need to know to understand the later events. While on the surface that seems like a good thing, it can be rather annoying to have all the answers and none of the mystery.
A lot of showing and a hint of telling is what we call Including. This is where the reader is gradually given information about the setting. It may take several chapters in order to understand the world/universe. Ways to accomplish this is through through character dialogue, flashbacks, character’s thoughts or reactions, in-universe media like a TV show or News program, or simply backstory through the narrators voice.
A good example of Including is the first Hunger Games movie. While the exposition was revealed to us visually, those not familiar with the plot gained a lot of information through Stanley in his media program. This is a good example of Including.
It’s important to note for Exposition, especially for Including, that it doesn’t have to be at the beginning. You don’t have five chapters to get all the details done by. A well executed story has exposition right up to the last chapter and the reader is not aware that it is exposition. You can give details up at the front, and that is fine, but you never stop explaining the Exposition.
Now, as I always encourage that writers break the rules if they feel it is best for them, there are times where an info dump is good to do. Not only that, it is possible to make it work. I’ve done it in my story Terran Psychosis. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I felt it worked for what I was trying to accomplish. A few ways you can do it:
- A general doing a mission briefing would be an info dump.
- a lawyer giving an opening statement to the jury
- a girl writing in her diary
- a villain with a need for a monologue
The concerns for exposition is more directed at Science Fiction and Fantasy writers as they must build a whole new world for you to enter. Other kinds of writers can rely on the readers assumption of reality and have less need for explanation. Understanding magic and technology, different races, laws of physics, history…it’s a lot on your plate to convey through writing.
Epilogue & Exposition
This is why I want to be a novelist…it’s too easy for me to write a lot. Now is the part of linking the two concepts together.
The World. The Exposition is about explaining the world to us and Epilogue is about expanding our understanding of the world. A good story teller will know about the world than the reader or the characters, and it will show that you have that through your writing. That perhaps you know why the ghosts didn’t go through the door. Any other door yes, but perhaps it is a special metal or something.
When you understand the world, there is a confidence in your writing. You’re not scrambling around trying to glue pieces together. So when you do the Exposition, you can close your eyes and be in that universe and when you make the Epilogue, you play out all the things that happen in the world, not just the characters themselves.
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