by Linda Brooks Davis
Ever labor over a character and wonder if you’ve birthed a hero, a monster, or a puppet?
As a grandmother in her 70th year of life, memories of the birthing process are vague to say the least. But even after 45 years, I recall snippets: the discomfort of a growing belly and the physical changes that came with it; the mood swings and teary-eyed frustrations and fears; and the kicks and punches my babies delivered as I lay down to sleep.
How could I forget the anxiety of the first labor pains, the disbelief when they reached their peak, and the fear they never would end?
With a single novel to my credit–The Calling of Ella McFarland–I claim no expert status, only the insight of a first-time midwife of sorts–one who facilitated the birth of multiple characters, some who emerged rather easily and others who battled their way onto the page.
What delight to lay a heroine in my readers’ arms. Ella bears all the markings: beautiful, courageous, and strong. And with a kind heart that softens the sting of a sharp tongue. But like DNA, inexplicable in its complexity, even a heroine can carry a seed of … something else.
How strangely gratifying to deliver a Walter, a Frank, or a Viola, monsters in their own ways. From deep within long-held memories their characteristics emerged: arrogance, cruelty, and spite. Wrapping them in swaddling clothes and presenting them to readers brought a different sort of satisfaction–a reprisal of sorts that forced me to face my own hidden bitterness.
But other characters–like Lily–challenged me in different ways. Would I deliver her as a living, breathing girl or as a puppet? Would she sit on a shelf with crumpled limbs? Might she dance to a preordained tune? Or would the midwife clip the strings and let her breathe?
The foundation for my journey of midwifery began at the Myers Briggs Personality Types inventory. As a 40-year educator, I had listened to presentations, participated in workshops, and applied the results in staff interviews for years. But using the inventory as an author intent on creating believable, memorable characters took on a different hue.
No longer was I looking at the personality types with a view to maximizing my own or my staff’s camaraderie and productiveness. I was creating individuals with select personalities and aiming not for tranquility but conflict.
Would Ella’s extroversion overwhelm Lily, the introvert? Would a particular characteristic or life experience aid or hamper their meshing as friends?
Would Ella’s ever-certain discernment between right and wrong bring defiant Viola to raise a battle-ax or bend a knee?
And how in the world could a character as strong willed and purpose driven as Ella function successfully in a male-dominated world? Would her drive crush the admiration of one particular male? And would it blind her to a higher calling?
Ultimately I learned that midwifing characters is neither a puppet assembly line, a Play-Doh party for 4-year-olds, nor the work of a grand Creator. Turned out, it was a delivery process as flawed as myself and my memories, as messy as family, as unavoidable as life, and as fulfilling as a labor of love.
Which it was.
Lord, You alone are perfection. When You provided free will, You offered a solution as well. Thank You for making us neither heroes, nor monsters, nor puppets, but simply Your children. Use our flawed words for Your purposes in The Greatest Story Ever Told–Yours. For Jesus’ sake.
As the 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel recipient, Linda Brooks Davis is grateful for the release of The Calling of Ella McFarland by Mountainview Books in December 2015. Linda and her husband, long-time members of San Antonio’s Oak Hills Church, delight in their veterinarian son and daughter and dote on six grandchildren.