There's a lively discussion going on in the comments for my epilogue post, and one inspired a long response from me, and I figured that I'd just put it upfront. Don't expect much. I just decided that because my response was so longwinded, not brilliant. :)
I feel like epilogues provide the opportunity to tie up things that make a point but don't fit into the main plot. I can't very well stop the action after this character dies to find out what happens to him since it wouldn't interrupt the entire pace of the story. It sounds more like you're opposed to 'and they had 10 babies and lived happily ever after' types of epilogues, so I wonder what you think of this.
I don't know. All I can say is-- be analytical. You know what the pitfalls are. So be skeptical and examine this as a reader would-- and it has to be in the context of the whole story, not just by itself-- ESPECIALLY if your prose is pretty damned good... because that can be sort of seductive and disguise whether it's needed or not. You're talking about a 3-book story here, so there are lots and lots of plot threads. Why does this one need to have a finish AFTER the finish? (A bad guy defeated and dead... that's a finish. :)
So I can't tell, but I have to say that my question is-- why do you need to tell what happens to him?
Hollywood has this tendency to have two endings: "You have to kill the dragon twice." I've ended up against it because I think it's kind of corrupted the story by forcing this unnatural conflict, and in fact, now it's predictable, and in a theater, when the bad guy is killed or the good guy loses, viewers will whisper, "No, wait, there's still ten minutes left. He'll come back." It's as artificial as the encore in a concert-- you know if the band doesn't play its biggest hit, well, they'll come back for an encore and play it. Predictable.
So-- and I'm just using yours as an example, and I don't really know what you should do, but you know how good it is to be used as an example, right? :)-- What is served by showing that, I don't know, he's forgiven and he's in heaven now, or he isn't forgiven and he's in hell, or he's reincarnated as a worm, or... why isn't death enough of an ending? What is the reader going to get out of a final final finish to his story?
You might be absolutely right. I don't know, and can't know without reading the whole thing, but I'm naturally wary because epilogues, frankly, seldom work. (As I've said, I've written a couple, and I felt like I needed to write them for ME, not for the reader-- I needed to take the story one more step to assure myself that Jerry and Maisie were happy, or whatever. Now none of these epilogues made it into the printed version of the story-- either I or the editor decided against it-- so my batting average isn't very high.)
You know, this might have some connection to the tendency in genre and popular fiction to tie up all the ends in the end. I think that's in part in response to the tendency in literary fiction to make endings ambiguous. In popular fiction, we usually have finished endings, that is, we actually answer the story question: Yes, the murdered was identified and brought to justice. Yes, Jerry and Maisie end up happy together. Yes, the colonists reach the planet safely.
The closer a novel gets to lit fic, I notice, the more likely the ending is to be ambiguous, so, say, PD James's mysteries will seldom wrap everything up in the end (which sometimes annoys me :).
Now an epilogue can make an ending ambivalent (like the Indiana Jones one-- well, that was more ironic, but it was ambivalent in the sense that the all-important Ark is lost), but more often, it makes the ending very, very certain.
Now I tend not to love ambiguous endings, but you know, those are the ones that linger. The most famous: "Tomorrow is another day!" When Scarlett thinks that, it's leaving open a possibility that she'll manage to change things. And here it is, decades later, and there's even been an authorized sequel, but we still think about that ending, right?
Another that has occasioned enormous controversy (okay, among a small group, but trust me, this is HOTLY debated!) is the ending to the Lymond Chronicles (Dorothy Dunnett). Don't read this if you're halfway through the series, okay? But it ends with Lymond as the putative father of a little boy, and -- this is really complicated in the story, and I won't even try to summarize it-- this is probably a substitute for his actual son, who probably died years earlier. Now I say "probably" because some have argued that Kuzum is actually his son, presenting a lot of intricate evidence-- and Dunnett, I suspect, planted that evidence just to be difficult. :) Anyway, what's left ambiguous is whether Lymond will ever fully accept K as his son. We STILL debate that, and Lady Dunnett is long dead, and that book was released in 1975. If there were an epilogue that settled that issue... well, I don't know if the story would still have that much resonance.
Another example, from TV. Think of how Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended. Yes, some questions were answered-- the vampires were defeated, the apocalypse averted, Buffy survived. But the MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION was left open, that is, did Buffy love Spike? She said, "I love you," to him, but he said, "No, you don't, but thanks for saying it." So the question is left open-- was she right? Was she telling the truth? Was she just saying that because he was about to sacrifice himself to save the world? Did he know the truth better than she did? Or did he believe her but just wanted to get her to leave him so she'd be safe? The ambiguity of that ending has launched a thousand fan-fics. :)
So, anyway, ambiguous endings do have advantages. That's something to consider also, as an epilogue could potentially remove all doubt, and that might make for a LESS satisfying ending. Just a thought-- what do you think gives the reader the more satisfying experience?
Hmm. Now I'm thinking of that... let's say that you want an ambiguous ending for this bad guy, just let's say. How can we stage a bad-guy-death-scene that would leave a bit of ambiguity? But not an annoying amount of it. I can see, as he dies, he kind of looks up and smiles suddenly, like he saw something he liked. Then we'd all speculate, "What? Did he see heaven?"
When I was in parochial school, we were utterly convinced that if we said the Our Father as we died, we'd go to heaven no matter what evil we'd committed in our little 4th grade lives. So I can just imagine the bad guy muttering, as he bleeds out, "Our Father, who art in heaven...." The End.
So... Gwen... no good answer on epilogues. But thanks for the example!