by Linda Brooks Davis
Ever feel squeezed to your limit? I have. Many times. As a first-time novelist, I’ve learned what the squeeze produces in characters-and in myself.
Take the recent ACFW Conference. My husband had massaged the family budget to life support status. A fresh idea had inserted itself into my WIP, calling like a siren as I shut down my computer to tackle the distasteful but essential task of packing. Sleep overtook me far later than usual the night before departure. The alarm woke me at 3:30 a.m. I waved to my husband, but the list of to-dos on my desk waved back.
The airplane aisle had grown narrower since the last time I flew, the rows more cramped, the reclining angle of the seat in front of me more pronounced, the arm rests more restrictive. Surely.
I watched the sun rise through a haze-not in the sky and not on the airplane’s window, although fingerprints did mar the pane, but in my mind. To which Hyatt was I headed? Where was the shuttle? And where was my tip money? Perfect set-up for the squeeze.
Like the old experiment with three sponges in clear liquids-sugar water, Sprite, and vinegar-none identifiable until the sponge is squeezed, my mind and heart were rife with a concentration of the third. When a kind volunteer was forced to show me out of a session I had no idea I had not signed up for, I reeked of vinegar.
On the flight home I recalled the sweetness and joy that had surrounded me at the conference, the helpfulness and grace. Had I allowed a single drop to permeate my heart? Self-reflection brought to mind the antagonist in my current story who shares the protagonist’s general personality traits: introversion, intuitiveness, impracticality, and idealism.
Their defining differences lie not in such traits but in the “contents of their hearts”. Where one’s introversion births acts of kindness, the other’s deepens her selfishness. One’s intuition leads her to set aside her plans in lieu of the greater good; the other’s, to manipulate people and circumstances for her benefit. Both characters’ values spur them to act, but one reflects the image of God; the other, her unattractive self.
My attitude earned me no heroine’s title, but I did return home with a fresh perspective. As writers, we can soak characters’ heart and minds with whatever qualities we desire. The squeeze forces them outward. As real-life sponges we can lay ourselves down in sweetness so intense it’s nauseating, in vinegar so tart it repels, or in a solution that’s just right as Goldilocks would say. But we can’t stir up such a solution ourselves. Only God can-through His Word and prayer and in submission to the Holy Spirit.
So before I return to the drawing board each morning, this giant sponge requires a thorough dousing with the holiness of God. Otherwise, I fear I’m pickled. So is my story.
Linda Brooks Davis 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. As the Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel recipient, Linda is anticipating the December release of The Calling of Ella McFarland by Mountainview Books.