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.
Life 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.
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 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.