What Happens Next?

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal


At church this morning, I got a nice compliment from a friend. Well, actually a couple of nice comments. One, she said she’d finished my book, Angel Sister in the wee hours of the morning. True, she does have trouble sleeping sometimes, but at least I didn’t put her to sleep. But before she told me that she looked over at me – we’re pew sharers – and said “Where did she, that woman live? Their house was gone, wasn’t it? And what about Lorena? Where did she live?” At first I didn’t know what she was talking about. What woman? Then I realized she meant Fern in my story. But she was asking the questions like Fern and Lorena were neighbors down the road and they had kept on living after she read “The End.” And that’s a good thing for me.
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Of course the characters were very real to me and I still find myself thinking about their story, replaying it and living it over with them. And I did imagine what happened to them later after the story I wrote down was through. And no, I’m not telling what that was. First, who knows? I might still get the chance to write the “rest of their story.” Second, once you as a reader have read the story and taken the characters into your minds and hearts, then you can have the fun of deciding what happens next.
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I visited a book club a year or so ago. The readers were discussing The Believer. It was so interesting to sit there hearing the conversation going on around me about what Ethan and Elizabeth did next. They were delving into motivations, possibilities, and consequences that I hadn’t pulled out into the open in my own mind. I could see what they meant, but I hadn’t really consciously thought about it in the way they were. Again, that’s a good thing for a writer. Especially a writer like me who does a lot of story navigating by instinct.
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People will ask me what’s the theme of my story. I rarely know what to say. Maybe a good answer would be life. Of course a need to forgive or get forgiveness often runs through my stories, but that’s a major part of living life. Forgiveness, love, dreams, faith, sorrow, hope, joy – all part of life.
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Somebody once told me that I was a storyteller, and I think that is what I am. I’m telling a story and if in that story I can show how faith and hope and forgiveness makes a difference in my characters’ lives, then that’s a bonus. Some of you may think that’s awful. That I should be thinking more about my theme, my message, but I believe that shows up in the life stories. That it will show up in anybody’s story – fictional or actual. Our faith journeys are important and what’s important to us needs to be important to our characters. I like being able to write about that part of my characters’ lives. And I feel blessed when readers tell me that one of my stories has them taking a closer look at their own faith journey. But I don’t plan it out. I just write the story and trust the Lord to do the rest.
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So I’m glad my friend wanted to know what was going to happen next to Lorena and Fern. My story ended but life stories don’t. Even when someone passes on, so much of that person is left behind with his or her family. Their influence, their love, their story continues on. So Lorena is out there, living the rest of her story in my imagination and maybe in yours. One thing sure, every night before she goes to bed she says, “My name is Lorena Birdsong.”
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What do you think? Do the characters you read about live on? Do you give them futures in your imagination?
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Thank you so much for reading. Talk to you again on Wednesday. I’ll have drawn for a winner for the gift cards by then. But if you send me an e-mail right away you can still get your name in the hat.