What’s Next?

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

The blue-gray and black Great Dane stretched his large head and giant body from the back seat of my car, as he looked through the rear window of my Subaru Outback. I had just driven away from the home he’d known for the past week, being fostered for an Denver-based organization called Big Dogs Huge Paws. “Blue,” as he was called, was headed for a new home in Montana and I was his ride from a Denver suburb to Casper, where he stayed a few days while awaiting transport to Billings, Montana. Helping dogs go into rescue or go to their new homes is something I thoroughly enjoy, and since I like to travel, transporting dogs for rescue groups fits me to a tee. Yet, like Blue the Great Dane, most rescue animals are nervous about what is happening to them; I am sure they wonder, “What’s happening? What’s next?”

What took me to Denver to begin with earlier this month is also a “what’s next?” story. A dear friend, someone I’ve known more than 30 years, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just before Thanksgiving. His surgery took place in a Denver hospital the end of December, and he and his wife were staying at an Aurora hotel after he was released from the hospital following a second surgery. I spent time with them during a weekend in mid-January, learning more about the disease and various scenarios of prognosis. My friends planned to stay at the hotel for a few weeks, meeting with the surgeon and other doctors to learn “what’s next?” It’s a scary, uncertain time for them, and it’s been a scary, uncertain time for Blue … and other rescue dogs I’ve known.

baseball_pitcherLife throws curve balls. Whether at an animal that’s lost it’s home for some reason; a bad health report like my friend; a dip in finances due to lack of work as my husband and I experienced last spring; or some other experience we go through – these curve balls trip one off balance, much as a pitcher tries to do to a batter in baseball. We can’t always control what happens to us in life, and when those curve balls are hurled at us, we wonder “what’s next?”

As writers we often come to a point where we don’t know what’s going to happen next to our characters. We can take scenarios from life and throw those at the characters, being the “pitcher” in the story we’re creating. In the pet rescue children’s story I’ve been working on for the past few years (shelved due to the “curve balls” of other writing endeavors such as the magazine article wave that hit me in 2014) Jasmine, my primary dog character, doesn’t know “what’s next” when the owner she’s known for years abandons her; when she is taken into rescue; when she is transported from place to place on her way to her new forever home – just as many of the rescue animals I work with don’t know “what’s next?” As I’ve written the children’s story, at times I wasn’t sure where the story/the character was going next, even though the story is based on a true rescue account. I didn’t know exactly what happened to the real Jasmine after she was abandoned and before she went into rescue, so I created scenes which would be as near to fact as possible (such as after her puppies are born, she has to protect them from predatory coyotes). For characters in our stories, when we as authors are “stuck,” we can draft out potential scenarios, “what ifs,” and see how those possible pathways might play out for our characters, an “if this then that” plot outline.

Jazmine Transport

Doing a “character study” is also valuable. Asking questions of your character(s) helps you get to know them. Here’s a link to a Writer’s Digest article about questions to ask of your characters: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/novel-writing-10-questions-you-need-to-ask-your-characters. Delving more deeply into our character(s) can help sort out the question “What’s next?” for them and for the entire story.

Although we dream and plan for the future in real life, we really don’t know what tomorrow holds. However, as writers we can plot out the tomorrows for our story and its characters, sometimes with a few curve balls thrown in for good measure (just as happens in real life) to generate a page-turning story. So, what are your hopes for “what’s next” in your writing life? In your current story in progress? May the curve balls that come your way help you to hit a home run, in real life and in your stories!


Gayle & Mary outsideGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion boos: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including the latest dog book The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She also writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric Network), Crossroads, Creation Illustrated, and Our Town Casper magazines, as well as for the Casper Journal, River Press, and Douglas Budget newspapers. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small  Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final  Walking_FrontCover_small  Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014


16 thoughts on “What’s Next?

  1. I find in writing a novel that even with a detailed outline — and I do a fairly detailed one — I’ll divert from the earlier scenario and send the plot in another direction. Sometimes I’ll just be thinking in the middle of the night and presto out comes a possible plot change that will make the story more dramatic and perhaps even more of a surprise to the reader.

    In real life, we indeed think we know where we’re going but sometimes God says “Hey, I’m going to make a plot change.” Last Saturday, I went to see dad in the hospital thinking he was getting better. Instead, God decided to bring in “home” to Heaven just a few minutes after a new day — Sunday — dawned. From Psalms 30:5, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”


    1. Mike, I thought of you often as I edited my post … and of my husband who lost his father last spring. I know I’ll be facing that one day, and perhaps in the not-so-distant future, as my father is now 78 years old. I am not a plotter in my stories, but just let them develop as I write … and I have made some changes to some of my works in progress and anticipate that I’ll be making more to at least one of them before I call the work “done.” May God bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you as you travel this journey of mourning … and your wonderful journey of writing.


  2. Gayle,

    Those what ifs are what create who we become, just like our characters. I may not like them, but boy do I grow because of them. Like I would tell the teens in detention, you’ve survived the worst life can throw at you and survived, you can do anything now.

    Loved the post and bless you for caring so deeply for those who can’t. Doris


    1. Thank you, Doris — I wish I could do more for the rescue groups and their charges, but I am thankful I can do something every now and again. Yes, we do grow when those curve balls get tossed but it is sometimes very tough going (I think of my friend in particular). In my pet rescue romance, my heroine has some curve balls hailed at her and she is growing, and in my children’s pet rescue story, Jasmine must learn to trust people again … and finds a loving family in the end. But, their roads are not easy but yes, both characters grow … and that’s a good thing! Thanks much for your lovely comments!


    1. Thank you, Abbie — I believe we all find inspiration for our writing in some aspect of real life. I love helping rescues when I can (sometimes my travels take me to Sheridan, and I hope to see you on my next trip north!) 🙂


  3. I enjoyed this post very much Gayle. I have always had a problem worrying about “What’s Next” and it wasn’t until I was put on meds for Bipolar that I quit. By focusing on what might happen you lost the wonderful things that are happening around you at the time. You tied the story about Blue and other dogs you have transported very well to writing. I don’t plan out what happens next in my writing. I’d rather find out along the way. You are such a special person to give so much of yourself, whether it be your family, pets, or your writing. It’s why I am always excited to read your posts!


    1. Linda, you are SO KIND! Thank you for your wonderful words of encouragement and support. I appreciate your comments and I appreciate you — you are a very special lady and an inspiration to us all!


  4. Great post, and I copied the 10 things to ask your character to use. Your passion for animals and your writing shines. That “what next” gets to all of us I think, especially when things aren’t going well. Good question to remember to answer for our characters. You are good at sharing what you know and I appreciate it!


  5. Good post, Gayle. I so agree with the fact that life throws curve balls and we have to make the best of them. It’s interesting to hear about how you make those possible scenarios when the facts peter out. In a way it’s what I’m doing now with my Celtic series. I’ve moved beyond written historical info and am now ‘inventing’. It’s liberating in an odd sort of way! Like the others above I might just copy that list of questions for reference. 😉


  6. Great post, Gayle! Excellent combination of some current life events and the writing life–and great list of questions in the link. How we deal with those curve balls is all important–whether we are on the receiving end or whether we are throwing them at our characters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s