Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Role Exit

In sociology we have a term for what happens when a status change occurs and we are forced to alter our roles: Role Exit. This usually involves leaving or loss. Going from spouse to widow, married to single (divorce), leaving or being released from a job, moving from child to adult. Etc.

This idea of Role Exit is important. When our status changes we must change our role. If we don't, we end up very strange people. A literary example would be Ms. Havisham... perpetually frozen in time.

Role Exits are transitions. Big ones. And those transitions are made easier by the definition of what we now are... or, how well we can execute the new role we are expected to play.

I remember being pregnant both ways. Married and unmarried. When I was unmarried I watched people look at my left hand so often I ended up sitting in waiting rooms with my right hand covering my left (very prim). I didn't fully understand how important it was until deep into my pregnancy with my second child. I was taking a shower and looked down to see my wedding and engagement rings sparkling in the water as my hand rested on my belly.

I was overcome with a feeling of safety and rightness that I will never forget. It doesn't matter sometimes how we FEEL we should act in society (I don't think there is anything wrong with having a baby out of wedlock...obviously) But it does matter on the inside of ourselves. In that place in our minds where we want things to flow in the downhill, rather than uphill direction.

Making smooth transitions helps the people around us. It keeps everyone comfortable. When the old take on the role of Old and don't try to stay sexy (even thought we all know sex gets better with age ;) we, as a society, have an image in our collective heads we can sink into, without cringing. But it isn't interesting, it is the opposite of interesting.

So, how do transitions work in novels? Role Exits are important when authors tell stories. When a character has a Role Exit we have to make sure the transition is well established. Many times a bumpy transition leads to a wonderful character quirk... and we can only fully explore that quirk if we understand the role the character is bucking.

Anyway, I have already decided what I would do if I ever had to make the exit from wife to widow. I would dye all my clothes black. I would never wear another color. I would let my hair grown long and never cut it again because those were the last locks he touched. I would never remarry.

There I go with those "woulds" again!

Any Role Exits you want to discuss (real or character?)


  1. I recently went through a role exit. A couple of weeks ago I lost my job. It's been a little weird. I HATED my job. It made me miserable, but when I was laid off I suddenly wanted it back. I don't feel like a productive member of society, I feel like part of me is missing without a job. I've been working non stop since I was 16, I don't know what to do with my time. I've found out that you can only job search so many hours a day. Transitioning from a worker to unemployed is a lot harder then I could of ever imagined.

  2. Ah! But now you can be a full time student! ;)
    Get those loans girl!

  3. Interesting topic. My role exit: I became a housewife,writer and retired from the rat race, aged 48. My previous role was as a nurse,an extremely stressed and busy person.

    BTW,I tagged you at

  4. i always thought that a change of place does something 2 people. is that um...role exit 2???

  5. I love this post and learning that there is a name for what we all experience. What I'd like to do is look at my characters and see if I've made their role exits memorable, given them quirks related to that, as you suggest. Wonderful, actually huge, advice that I'm going to incorporate into story planning. Thanks.

  6. I think the dyeing (dying?) clothes all black must be your Italian heritage coming through - that's a very old Italian widow thing to do :) All my dad's family pictures - all the old ladies are always all in black.
    I would like to role exit to being a lady of leisure. A rich lady of leisure. Not a poor one because I got laid off or something. I did not see that exit on the highway on my way to work this morning. WHERE IS IT???

  7. Interesting. I love this topic and I'll be thinking about it for a while. Thanks!

  8. Great post. I am beginning a novel where the MC's best friends die and she has to deal with moving on without them. Lots of role exit issues until she meets the love interest.

  9. Hello! I popped over from Glynis' blog. She posted a link and I'm very glad she did. Fascinating post and I love the photo of the misty forest. Makes me want to run away to a mythical wood and get kidnapped by fairies.


  10. Role Exit! That's great! Now I know what to call the four big changes in my life over the last couple years. Yes, I am who I am, but now I have to figure new ways to fit into the world with other people.

  11. PS... came over from Glynis' blog- I'm the one who tagged her

  12. Thanks Glynis! Thanks All who visited me from her site! I will do the tag your it tomorrow.


  13. Excellent Post, nice writting. Working on my own novel. More like organizing thoughts. Neeeeed to sit down and write till my hand goes to sleep. LOL

  14. Hey, nice blog. Was looking around for some info on roles and this helped a bunch, thanks.