Another perfect summer day. I love summer, love driving down the street and seeing flowers blooming in my neighbors’s yards, love having friends over for dinner on the back porch, love … oh, so many things. I think most people share my feeling about summer. It’s the season of freedom, freedom from the routine of school for the kids, freedom from the constricting clothing we have to wear in the winter. There’s no snow to shovel. On the other hand, there is grass to cut and summer is also the season of humidity and mosquitoes. Like every time of year, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. All things considered, I’m grateful that I live in an area where we experience four distinct seasons.
Each time of year has its own seductive charm, from the spare elegance of a bare-limbed tree in winter to the extravagant bounty of a summer garden. Much as I love summer, spring and fall are my favorite seasons. They are less intense than the periods that precede and follow them, but to me, they are more interesting. Lacking extremes of heat and cold, the transition seasons are more gentle. They are also less predictable. Each day begins with a decision: T-shirt and shorts? A sweater and jeans? True, that’s a trivial decision, but if you don’t get it right, you’ll have an uncomfortable day. Even if you do get it right, there’s a good chance it’s just temporarily so. By mid-day, something as capricious and beyond your control as the weather may force you to regret your choice, maybe even change not just your clothing, but your plans.
Transitions in novels are like that too. These parts are more gentle. They are not the scenes of intense action, but those moments of introspection that follow or precede the action. They are less predictable, when readers wonder how characters will react to events beyond their control. They are the scenes in which the characters have an opportunity to change and grow. They have to make choices, some of which may be trivial in themselves, but they can produce unexpected results and lead to other, more difficult choices, which in turn, lead to … yes, more changes.
Transitions show the characters in their more reflective moments. It is here, in the periods of less intense action, that we get to know the characters, to understand why the choices they have to make are difficult for them. If they’re done well, we, as readers, agonize over the decisions with the characters and start to identify with them.
I think of these scenes as bridges – where the writer guides the story from beginning to middle to end and, if they’re good at it, they make it look easy – as natural and inevitable as the changing of the seasons.