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Wait for it… July 16, 2010

Posted by laurenrobbins6 in Plot.
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Psych

It dawned on me as I was watching Psych the other day that the epilogue is one of the most overlooked parts of the story arc, yet also one of the most important. In writing, I often forget about what should come after the climax and resolution of the novel. What else is there? So my characters are often left holding the trophy without a plan for the future at the end.

For a past NaNoWriMo novel, I even jumped the gun–putting the climax/resolution in the middle of my novel and then having to make up a whole other plot…which didn’t work out too well. Heavy on Russian spies and short on sense.

But I think that crafting your epilogue is one of those things that novelists can learn from the structure of TV shows. I used to think that novels, TV, and movies were very separate things, but in reality, they’re all fruit of the same tree. Everything (except maybe the modern novel) follows the mythic structure. In Joseph Campbell’s journey of the hero, you have the home-away-home cycle. The hero (or heroine) always needs to return to the starting point even after solving the mystery, or succeeding on the quest.

And after they come back, it’s important that there is a take-away message at the end. How did the quest benefit the hero or their home town? This is where the epilogue comes in. In a TV show, the crime is solved, the journey is done, but there’s a commercial break and you are ten minutes away from the end. Wait for it…wait for it…there’s more!

Why do we stick around to see the rest of the show and suffer through the ever-increasing stream of mindless commercials? Because the tag-line of the show contains some real gems:

  1. It wraps up all the loose ends
  2. It continues or begins a subplot that is usually character-centered
  3. It encourages you to watch the next episode

And that, in a nutshell, is your epilogue right there. Because a good novel always leaves readers wanting more.

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Comments»

1. amanda - July 16, 2010

I love when a great novel ends with an epilouge, because you’re right — a reader does want more. I don’t think it’s always necessary, though. You have to be left with a little wiggle room for the imagination to fill in the holes.

laurenrobbins6 - July 31, 2010

That’s true. Too much hand-holding for the reader destroys some of the novel’s magical charm. It’s sometimes difficult to strike a balance between tastefully wrapping up loose ends and squeezing every last detail into the epilogue.


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