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.”
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!