Transitions: Horrifying or Hopeful?

David Farland makes the point several times in his book Million Dollar Outlines that transitions from one state of being to another are hard. To be blunt, he says, “H— is in the middle,” and “H” doesn’t stand for Heaven. The examples he gives show characters trying to achieve their goals but finding that the paths they chose have unwanted side effects.

Transitions can be tough to live through, especially if they involve physical changes. They can also make it difficult for characters to be accepted by others. For example, something that doesn’t look like a healthy human but isn’t completely robotic may fall into the “Uncanny Valley,” something in between human and other that repulses people. It’s also mentally and emotionally challenging to be in the middle of a transition, to be neither one thing or another, not what you were but not yet where you want to be. But this raises a paradox: stories are often about a character changing from one state to another. For the character, this may happen during the most difficult ordeal of his or her life. But for the reader, this makes for a more interesting story.

Why are we drawn to stories about people in transition? Is it because their transformations are like a train wreck, so awful we can’t look away? Or is it because we know we have to undergo continual transitions of our own and need guidance on how to cope with them? My feeling is it’s more of the latter than the former. What’s your take? And do you have a favorite story or type of transition you like to read about?

8 thoughts on “Transitions: Horrifying or Hopeful?

  1. Catharsis is what story is all about. You’re right. The train wreck can be safely watched from the comfort of our armchair, and the empathy with a sympathetic character is what we strive to achieve in our writing, is it not?

    • Kelly, that’s what I think too. Perhaps we’re also looking for ways to cope with our own transitions.

  2. Not to mention, it’s somewhat comforting to watch Our Heroes conquer their obstacles. Always gives me hope.

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