I met my husband through an erstwhile friend.
We had been friends for less than a year prior and she faded from my life about a year afterwards. He stayed in my life, she didn’t. At the time I was simply enjoying the friendship, hanging out at her cozy Colorado cabin on the Frying Pan River. It wasn’t until much later that I realized she had been a transitional character in the story of my life propelling my life plot from one stage to another.
Novels require transitional characters in the same way life does. The main character needs both compulsion and propulsion to send him or her through the plot. But, as with my friend, the transitional characters can’t be obvious. I just finished Christina Baker Kline’s wonderful novel Orphan Train. The book itself is about fate and almost every person outside the two main characters is transitional, exiting the novel when they have satisfied their purpose. But, like my friendship, you don’t realize it until much later when the main protagonists see it for themselves.
The trick is to pull this off. I read another book that had an obvious transitional character. He moved the plot, gave rational to the action, and disappeared from the novel entirely when no longer needed. It bothered me that it was so blatant. I felt cheated and manipulated at the same time: cheated because the character was a cardboard figure with no dimension, manipulated because I readily accepted his presence and expected him to be important only to realize he was a prop.
In life we can’t always see fate at work. As writers we are fate at work. The challenge is to arrange our paper worlds with grace and subtlety.
I don’t know that I ever thanked my former friend for bringing me and my sweetheart together. None of us knew at the time what a big influence she would be.