What’s the difference between epilogues, afterwords, and appendices? We explain what they are, when to use them, and tips for writing them. We also include examples of each.
There are many books that include introductions, forewords, or prologues. They usually include important information about the book, subject, or author.
[Suggested reading: Forewords, Prefaces, Prologues, & Introductions – What’s The Difference?]
But what about the end?
Writers can also choose to add epilogues, afterwords, or appendices.
These sections appear after the book’s last chapter. It’s when the writer needs to add something like resources, or a conclusive part of the story.
The last chapter of a book or manuscript doesn’t always mean that it’s The End.
In this post we look at difference between epilogues, afterwords, and appendices.
Closing A Manuscript
There are three main ways to close a manuscript when you have something to say after the last chapter:
- An epilogue: An epilogue appears in fiction.
- An afterword: An afterword can be used for fiction and non-fiction.
- An appendix: An appendix is usually reserved for non-fiction, to add resources or definitions. There are exceptions where appendix sections can add to fiction (for example, for fictional maps).
Epilogues, Afterwords, & Appendices – What’s The Difference?
When To Use An Epilogue
An epilogue appears at the end of fiction.
Epilogues can be used to clarify events after the book’s ending, or to continue the story.
For example, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows included a continuation of the story, with the characters set as adults.
Would the book (and the series) have been the same without the epilogue?
Use an epilogue when more needs to be said.
Who Writes An Epilogue?
Epilogues are usually written by the book’s author, but not from their perspective.
Here’s how to write an epilogue, and how to tell whether your story needs one.
1. Say Something
All good epilogues say something. Add something to the story, or don’t say it. Remember why you are writing this as an epilogue, and not just as the last chapter.
2. Don’t Waste It
A bad epilogue can feel like a movie spoiler. When an epilogue says things that could have been left to the reader’s imagination, it strips the ‘fun’ part of the story. Don’t waste an epilogue.
3. Ask: ‘Any Questions?’
As a writer and reader, do you have any questions about the story or the characters? When you’d like to know more at the end of the book, it can be an indicator that your story could use an epilogue.
An afterword can be an effective closer for a great book, but only when you know how to use it. Here’s what an afterword is (and when to include one).
When To Use An Afterword
Sometimes, an afterword can include background about the story itself. It can also encompass information about the research, the writing, or the author of the story.
It’s similar to a foreword, but appears at the end.
Afterword sections can appear in fiction and nonfiction titles to provide background about the text. For example, classics like Frankenstein or Romeo & Juliet.
Who Writes An Afterword?
An afterword is different to an epilogue in terms of its perspective.
While an epilogue is written from the perspective of the story’s characters, an afterword is not.
An afterword is written from the author’s perspective. Other writers can also contribute to a book’s afterword, but only where relevant.
Here’s how to get to grips with a good afterword.
1. Readers Should Know (Insert Here)
An afterword should include information, facts, or trivia that readers want to know. Readers should care about the afterword: in fact, readers should look forward to reading it.
2. Read It Separately
Read your book’s afterword separately. This way, you’re able to see whether it fits in well with the rest. Edit is as a stand-alone chapter if you feel that changes should be made.
3. Research Others
Read good afterwords. It’s the best way to see what writers had to say at the end of their book. It can help you to gain important perspective on what you’d like to say for yours.
An appendix appears in non-fiction books, although exceptions are made for fiction that needs resources (for example, fictional maps).
Here’s how to put together an effective appendix for your work.
When To Use An Appendix
An appendix adds information, facts, background, or definitions to the end of a book.
If the book you’re writing has been heavy in facts, jargon, or terms the reader needs defined, you’ll need an appendix.
It’s considered supplementary to the book itself. An appendix is meant for reference together with reading the book.
For example, the For Dummies and Complete Idiot’s Guide to instructional books contain added information (like website links, extra resources, and a glossary) at the back
Who Writes An Appendix?
An appendix is split into sections, and usually written by the author.
A bibliography or word definition list can be an example of sections that a writer would include.
External editorial help can be necessary where an appendix is fact heavy.
Here’s how to make sure your appendix section add something to your book.
1. Appropriate Sections (Always)
An appendix should be split into sections. This is especially true where there are several topics being discussed (like Definitions versus Maps within a text). Ensure that these sections are clearly defined, and marked in your Table of Contents where needed.
2. Check Facts (& Check Again)
Always fact-check your appendix sections. This means always, and this means double-check. Because appendixes are there for the reader’s reference, mistakes confuse, mistakes baffle, and mistakes are inexcusable.
Even when you’re doing it for the purposes of fiction, don’t get something wrong.
3. Check For Flaws
Facts aren’t the only element in an appendix to obsess over. Let’s not forget about flaws.
Manuscripts that seem flawless at first will need their appendixes checked just as much.
The Last Word
I hope this has helped you understand the difference between epilogues, afterwords, and appendices.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
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