I’m one of those people who seem to spend a lot of time in what I call the “between place.” This could signify lots of different things for different people: between jobs, between careers, between relationships, between houses, between adventures.
In my life, the “between place” seems to signify being between major stages in figuring out who I am and what God means for me to do in life. This has taken the form of lots of different jobs: grad student and academic, barista, receptionist at a vet clinic, high school teacher…. next stop to be determined.
I’ve got to figure out my long-term plans and goals. I need short-term plans to obtain employment. I’m determined to keep my faith in the center of everything, through it all, though I fail at that pretty regularly. It’s a tough balancing act.
Sometimes it’s painful. It’s always a temptation to be envious of people who have found their place. I find it easy to live in, dream about, or fear the future, rather than live in the present.
The negatives of the “between place,” its challenges, are always obvious. They jump out and grab your attention, and they’re hard to ignore. The equally real and very present GOOD aspects of the situation are harder to find or to focus on. Nevertheless….
LIFE HAPPENS IN THE BETWEEN PLACE
With the number of years I’ve spent in the “between place,” I should know by now that this is where life really happens. Still, I constantly find myself needing a reminder of that stark truth.
I’ve learned that self-reflection, personal growth and development, the strengthening and testing of will and faith…. all the things that separate human life and the human experience from animal life…. happen with incredible intensity when we’re in the “between place.”
That’s easy to overlook. It’s SO easy to look at the “between place” as synonymous with “nowhere land,” as lost or worthless or wasted time. It’s not. The “between place” is where preparation happens, mindsets shift, and goals develop. What we experience in the “between place” is just as valid, just as real, and just as human as what we find when we arrive somewhere new.
LITERATURE AND THE BETWEEN PLACE
Characters, like people, often also pass through their own “between places.” For me, one of the biggest markers between “deep” and “action-packed” literature is how they portray this “between place.”
As authors, we always have different options when it comes to exploring the “between places” of our characters. We can gloss them over. We can give some small insight into what a character experiences. We can give a little more. We can devote entire chapters to the interior experience and interior life of our characters during these times.
Literary fiction tends to give more attention to these moments. That’s why people often find literary fiction, or the classics, boring. That’s why they complain that “nothing happens.”
Sometimes there is quite a bit happening. It’s just internal. Rather than explosions or chases or life-or-death decisions, an author is choosing to explore what happens to us as human beings inside the between place.
Like real people, this is where characters can realistically change, grow, resolve to be better, or resolve to be different. This is where characters can stop to recharge, assess where their life has brought them and why, and what they should do now.
An author’s individual style, the story’s point of view, the characters themselves, the genre, and other things can all influence how deep and for how many words the author chooses to travel into the “between place.”
My favorite novel, “Les Miserables,” spends quite a bit of time there, and I find it fascinating to consider not only how long Victor Hugo discusses the “between place,” but the sheer number of years his protagonist Valjean spends there.
In Valjean’s case, his years in hiding as a convent gardener while his foster child Cosette is educated at the convent are a mark of sacrifice, prudence, and love. They are a time of contemplation and growth for him. I imagine him comparing and contrasting those years with the years he spent in prison or in the galleys as a convict. I like to imagine his faith growing by leaps and bounds, the faith he later has to rely on during a rebellion in Paris.
I don’t think there is one right way to represent the “between place,” or one set degree to which we as authors should do so. But it’s good to think about when and where our characters meet their “between places” and what that experience accomplishes in them, regardless of how we represent it directly.
ACTION AND ADVENTURE IN THE “BETWEEN PLACE”
One last quick note…. The “between place” doesn’t have to be dull. It doesn’t have to be entirely psychological. One example of a “between place” could be a displaced noble fighting for his life, trying to regain lost stability and security. There can be lots of physical danger and physical adventure there.
Another example could be a brand new, action-packed career experience for a character while he or she is operating plans to land that so-called dream job. Working at a vet was that for me. It was a CRAZY adventure, a lot of fun, and it taught me tons.