Chapters of Life

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

I’ve been reading Living for Eternity, by Kate Patterson. It’s a moving and thoughtful book which I recommend to anyone; a meditation on the exact implications of eternity, from a Christian point of view, and why this is a good thing, given extra depth by being written in the wake of her husband’s tragically early death.

But the bit that caught my eye as a writer was on page 175, where she quotes someone who had lost his family to a drunk driver: “The accident... was and will remain a very bad chapter. But the whole of my life is becoming what appears to be a very good book.”

I’m used to thinking in terms of times, or seasons, à la Ecclesiastes, and I’ve always found it helpful to bear in mind that “this too shall pass”. It comforts me in the bad times and saves me from complacency in the good. I hadn’t thought before of life in terms of chapters, but why not? Because every good story must have bad chapters as well as good to make the story work. (Or at least, to make it work in a way that is interesting.)

I remember reading about the death of Aslan with increasing despair and disbelief – and the joy when he came back. A friend told me he once toddled into his parents’ room in tears, early in the morning, because he was reading Lord of the Rings and Gandalf had just died. (I was his Best Man years later and, until my speech, he had forgotten telling me that.)

In both those cases, of course, the authors knew that their character was returning. By contrast, the entire Game of Thrones series, in books and on TV, revolves around a scene known as the Red Wedding, which turned readers’ and viewers’ expectations on their heads as everyone who was assumed to be continuing the story is abruptly wiped out. It is an intensely powerful scene and George R.R. Martin wrote it last of all, because he found it so difficult to do. He knew they would not be coming back: other characters would be taking up the story.

It shouldn’t matter how horrendous a chapter is, in a well-written book, because the reader should be trusting the author to deliver the goods at the end. Chapters are discrete parts of a greater whole with a distinct beginning, middle and end.

Mind you, I have never lost a spouse to a sudden heart attack, or my family to a drunk driver, or for that matter suffered in anything like an equivalent way – so, how well this insight serves me in years to come (or, the rest of the book, as I suppose I should now think of it) remains to be seen. But I don’t think it will do me any harm to think like this.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.

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