Tropes on Trial: the happy ever after epilogue

You’re reading an m/m romance and your two heroes have just ended up together, and all the main plot threads are tied up. Surely there’s nothing more to say? But wait, the author has included an epilogue.

Rejoice as we take a journey into the future to watch our two heroes do something ridiculously domestic together. Laugh at those little in jokes the author has so thoughtfully included. Melt as our heroes either, according to relevent subgenre:

  • declare their undying love in a wedding/civil partnership ceremony
  • set up a detective business together
  • adopt that baby/poodle/bear cub
  • or set up that home dungeon they’ve always talked about.

Epilogues that give us more of the HEA after the happy ending are a longstanding romance cliché, and readers and reviewers seem to have very mixed feelings about them. I’m no exception – I’ve read ones that have annoyed me, but I’ve also read epilogues that left me with a feeling of immense satisfaction and warmth. So what is it that determines the success of a happy ever after epilogue?

When epilogues go bad

The “unexpected baby” epilogue is a much maligned het romance trope, but are there any similar instances in m/m romance? I would suggest not, as most tropes fail or succeed according to the skill of the author. However, if there’s one epilogue I usually find redundant, it’s the “white picket fence” kind. This is one that seems to exist purely to show the happy couple doing something cute and domestic, to give the ending an “aww!” factor. It’s not so much that there’s something wrong with this (and many readers love these kinds of epilogues), but it can rather dull the impact of an otherwise strong ending.

One other type of epilogue I find intensely frustrating, is the kind that seems there purely to set up another story, leaving you with a big “huh?” that may not be satisfied for years (depending on how fast the author writes) This is where the authors adds new information right at the last minute, introducing an element of dissatisfaction as you’re left wondering what on earth will happen next. It can work well, ensuring you buy the next in the series, but it can also be incredibly annoying if it leaves the story feeling unfinished.

When epilogues work

For an epilogue to truly succeed, I think it needs to tie up a loose end or two in the plot. Perhaps a subplot that wasn’t able to be resolved within the main story time-frame, such as what happens when a character finishes his college course? Or did the villain get away with it all in court?

Another useful function of a happy ever after epilogue is to give a gentle landing after a rocky ride. If you’ve had a madcap daredevil adventure plot, then sometimes a scene showing the two lovers doing something ordinary is just the sort of sign off readers need. After all, would a bond forged under such a stressful situation really survive the mundanities of everyday life? This is where the author assures the reader that “yes, it does, and look, I’ll show you.”

The verdict

Epilogues can be a really positive addition to a romance novel, and those giving a sweet happy ever after ending can be used to great effect if they build on or resolve unfinished business in the plot. However, if they don’t, I’d prefer it if authors used them as free extras on their websites.

***

What do you all think? Are you fans of the epilogue, or would you prefer it authors wrapped everything up in the main body of the novel? Do you like to know how things work out for your heroes, or would you prefer to imagine your own version? And can you think of any m/m romance novels that have used epilogues to great effect? It’s on my mind at the moment, because I’ve just written one for Boats!

17 thoughts on “Tropes on Trial: the happy ever after epilogue

  1. Hmm, I usually like them. I’m just not sure if it is b/c I like epilogues for themselves, or if it is b/c I am looking for resolution I didn’t get in the book (and if I did, I wouldn’t need them). Does that make sense?

    • It does make sense! I know I’ve read a few where they really didn’t seem necessary, but most of the time they are there for a reason and they leave me with a smile on my face.

  2. I think it depends on the story.
    If you give us a really rocky ride on the last episode of Boats then yes, I think we’ll need an epilogue to calm down in :D

    I take novels as they come. The worst for me, and this is especially true of short stories, is the ending which makes me go ‘huh?’ Not because it introduces new information but because it just doesn’t fit the story.
    It’s one reason I used to detest shorts. It’s like the author has a bag of endings and just pulls one out – any will do – and sticks it on the end. Ugh!

    It was reading your short about the Aladdin’s lamp which lured me into reading short stories, and then actually writing them. That and other stories on your blog have appropriate endings (and good ones) which contributes to a satisfying experience.

    So, although you are an Evil Author, and do dreadful things to your characters and us, I want to say thanks very much :)

    • Rocky ride? Uh, have you been reading my notes?!

      Endings can be tricky little buggers, especially for shorts, so I’m overjoyed to hear that you’ve found mine inspiring! I think I’m getting better at them too. I like them to have a sense of completion, and things coming full circle.

      You’re welcome, Prue! :D

  3. *g* Well, you already know my opinion on Boats needing an epilogue! I think the one you’ve written will leave your readers happy. :)

    Another author posted on epilogues briefly some time ago – her opinion was that including an epilogue robs the author of the chance to write a sequel. Since I’m not big on writing sequels anyway, I haven’t worried about it!

    It annoys me greatly if an author robs the reader of a proper sense of closure on reading a book, just to set up the next in line.

    • Thanks hon! I made a few changes to it today, but I hope it’s still a crowd pleaser ;)

      I can see why some might think that – especially if you set the epilogue too far in the future, but I don’t see why you couldn’t catch up with the characters later on again… should you want to wade in and disrupt their happy ever after. Some authors truly are evil!

      I know exactly what you mean. Endings like that can really piss me off. I’m fine with how Jordan ended GhosTV because the main story was all concluded, so the new piece of information has just increased my anticipation, but it’s a tricky thing to get right in a series. I’m fairly sure I’d have been cursing Josh Lanyon loudly had I read the Adrien English books as they came out, rather than being able to gorge on them all in one go!

  4. I like them as long as they fit the story and serve as a conclusion

    And, woohoo, I have borrowed a laptop from Dad :) -it’s old and slow but everything works, so between that (mostly borrowed to charge the Kindle) and my iPhone I’m good till my own laptop gets back home :D

    • This seems to be the consensus – I’m glad we’re not all rabidly anti-epilogue like some reviewers and bloggers seem to be!

      Yay for being back online! :D

  5. There’s an additional unsatisfying type of epilogue, for me, at least – when the story ends right after some point that’s HFN, then skips ahead to an HEA epilogue. The story that immediately springs to mind had two guys who’d been together for several years, but the one left when he discovered the other was cheating. (This happened before the story started.) It’s several years later, and the cheater shows up at the cheatee’s place of business and is half-assedly repentant, but definitely persistent. So eventually they decide to give it another go and the story ends, then skips ahead a year to an HEA epilogue, which hints that there were rough points during the year, but they made it through.

    Dammit. I wanted the inbetween part. That was the meat of the story, trying to rebuild trust (and maybe seeing if the cheater was more repentant than he’d previously seemed to be).

    • Huh – I’ve never read one like that. Sounds like a real missed opportunity so I’m not surprised you felt cheated. An epilogue shouldn’t be used like a sticking plaster over a gaping wound…

  6. Gee Chris, I wonder what book that was? LOL

    Can I just say “What Jo said.”? Most of the time I don’t need the cutesy happy ever after, look how cute they are opening their gifts under the tree. I’m content to imagine it. However I do enjoy as you said something like how they are doing now they work together, or the slob moved in with the neatnik or something that still needed to be worked out, but not necessarily a big deal that requires several more chapters to work out such as sex favours in exchange for laundry detail is their solution. (Oh if only I had that option, I’d do most anything to get someone to do my laundry, ahem.)

    So on the whole I think they can often be skipped. You don’t need to hit me over the head with a bat to prove they lived happily ever after. I assume so, that’s why I read romance.

    • Hehe – I quite like doing laundry (except the ironing part, which I just don’t do at all), but I think I’m too far away to take on yours too. I would happily offer sexual favours in return for someone else vacuuming, though. That’s my all time least favourite chore!

      I guess some authors just don’t want to let the characters go, so they add on an extra cutesy bit. No reason it couldn’t be a website extra instead, though.

    • You wrote a good one, though! One of the reasons I loved your epilogue for Hanging Loose was that you gave us a sense of completion to one of the subplots. It worked really well :D

  7. I think it depends on the book and/or the epilogue. I’ve read some really good ones and I’ve read some really trite/ott ones that were so sickeningly sweet that they made my teeth ache. I like the ones that resolve the loose ends of the plot give you that satisfied smile on your face.

    So I guess that means I agree with what you and most of the people here have said LOL.

    • Yeah, sickly sweet isn’t a way I like to end a book either. I mean, there’s cute and there’s tooth-rotting…

      Seems like we all share the same criteria for what makes a good epilogue then – that’s reassuring to know!

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