Okay, we know how you feel about prologues and interludes. Basically the same way Inigo Montoya felt about the six-fingered man.
What about epilogues?
Hey Dave, great to hear from you again!
The short answer is that Mythcreants loves epilogues. Epilogues are great and most works longer than a short story should have them. All epilogues all the time. It’s epilogues all the way down, baby!
So, why do we think that? Because the epilogue serves an important purpose that makes the story better. Prologues, by definition, take place before the story has actually started, which means we don’t need to read them. Likewise, interludes are specifically a break from the story to go do something else. Why would you want to take a break from the story? The story is what we’re here to do! While there are lots of other common mistakes in prologues and interludes, those fundamental issues keep them from working even if the writer does everything else correctly.
What purpose do epilogues serve, exactly? They give readers time to wind down and wean themselves off the characters that they’ve (hopefully) grown attached to. If a story just cuts off after the climax, it usually feels very abrupt. Yes, the hero won (or lost), but what happened then? We need a bit more to assure ourselves that they’re doing okay now, that they’ve moved on from whatever conflict motivated them in the story.
To illustrate the difference, look at the book and film versions of The Martian. In the book, the story ends right after Watney reaches the rescue ship in orbit of Mars. That’s it, we’re done. It’s not the most pleasant experience. Watney’s a really compelling character and we just spent a whole book cheering for him to get back home! Even though he’s overcome the biggest challenges before him, not getting to see his return leaves us on edge. In the film, they added a short scene of Watney teaching a new class of astronauts, which is exactly what we needed. We see him on Earth and doing okay. This gives us a little more time to say goodbye when we’re not on the edge of our seats from the climax.
Of course, epilogues can be done poorly, like any other aspect of storytelling. A common mistake is adding a long time jump between the climax and epilogue. At this point, the characters are essentially different people than the ones we knew, so we’re back to the original problem of not getting a chance to say goodbye and wind ourselves down. It wouldn’t work for Return of the Jedi to flash forward two decades and show Leia restoring the Republic or what have you, but it’s important to have a sequence where the heroes party with the Ewoks to celebrate the Empire’s defeat. Epilogues can also go on for too long, introduce new problems that feel anticlimactic, etc. There are a lot of ways to get them wrong.
Nevertheless, a good epilogue will vastly improve a story, while leaving one out will detract from the readers’ experience. So remember your ABEs: Always be epilogueing!