The Chapters of Life

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner

Here in the United States we just celebrated the holiday known as Thanksgiving. It’s a time to gather with family and friends and count our many blessings.

This year my wife and I traveled to my parent’s house, along with our precious 16 month old daughter. This was a wonderful time for our little one. She enjoyed eating turkey and spending time with her grandparents.

Seeing her with my parents brought back memories.  Twenty years ago I gathered around the very same table with my own grandparents, all of whom I loved. I remember playing with them, just as my own daughter was playing with my folks.  I still feel the sorrow of losing them, one by one, in the decades that followed.

It occurred to me that my little girl will see the passing of her grandparents – my parents – in the decades ahead. Time passes, and loved ones leave us. It’s the changing nature of life. Nothing stays the same forever.

New Chapters, New Beginnings

Years ago I suffered an especially poignant, sudden loss. The pain overwhelmed me. My mind kept replaying the tragedy, unable to process what had happened. Consequently, my perspective on life became skewed. Nothing made sense.

A concerned friend shared with me some wisdom that he had learned while studying psychology.

It’s no accident, he said, that books are divided into chapters. Rather, it’s a reflection of how life really is. People exit our lives and new people enter. Chapters close and new chapters begin.

These words still strike me as profoundly true. As I write this post in my childhood home, I remember the chapters that have ended. Yet I am thankful for the new chapter of fatherhood, as well as the chapters yet to come.

Emotional Impact

This realization – that life is made up of chapters – led to a further revelation: the most emotionally powerful stories are about life chapters coming to an end, and new ones beginning.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (including its controversial epilogue) is a great illustration of this. While many readers dislike the epilogue, I found it to be moving. Perhaps my transition into fatherhood has something to do with this.

In any case, writing a story about the transitions that we all face, and making it relatable to universal human experience, is a surefire way to generate emotional impact.

A Writer’s Life

Have you given thought to the chapters that open and close in your own life?

Do you sense that you are at the beginning of a new chapter, or nearing a chapter’s end? Does this impact your writing either way?

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Nathan J. Lauffer
9 years ago

This is exactly what it means to give a part of yourself to your work.  Excellent post, Tony.

lawrence
lawrence
9 years ago

Thanks for this excellent post, Antonio. It gives me a new view on story structure. Yes, my life has begun a new chapter, and very significant ones have closed. There are alot of good things about this new start in my life – wonderful partner, new friends – but it also resounds with the echoes of the slamming shut of the closed chapters. Memory is a blessing and a curse.
I have found that the impact of past traumas often reach well beyond our attempts to move on. People are fond of saying “its in the past…forget and live in the present” I think that our stories should have the hope that comes from new beginnings, but also the reality of how major loss makes its presence felt in our characters long long after they have set out on a new chapter. I think the sorrow of the Eldar of Middle earth is a good example of an approach that is very satisfying.

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  lawrence
9 years ago

Lawrence,

Thank you for the thoughtful comment!  And yes, the sorrow of the Eldar of Middle Earth is a great example.

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