Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Today is my Birthday, My Character Wrote

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

I recently taught a continuing fiction class at St. David’s Christian Writers Conference, which is held each June at Grove City College, a picturesque institution of higher learning tucked along the eastern border of Grove City, Pennsylvania. Participants—limited to eight—were to bring the first thousand words of their work in progress (WIP) as well as a letter from their protagonist to whomever. The letter should begin, I instructed them, with Today is my birthday … Who the character writes the letter to is entirely up to the individual writer, I said. 

Allow me to be honest—this was the first time I added this exercise to my continuing class (but it won’t be the last). The results were astonishing. Class participants expressed how much they learned about their characters, simply by writing a letter in the pen and through the mind of their main character. 

Know thyself, the ancient Greek aphorism goes. Sometime later, Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Therapists—psychologists and psychiatrists—have used this notion for eons to help their patients toward healing and whole living. And what better day than our birthday to explore the “who” and “why” of who we are? But what if we did this with our characters?

Today is my birthday, I told my class participants, must be written in the voice of your protagonist. Not your voice. Not the voice of any other character. If your character is bitter, the day must be bitter. If your character is chirpy and easily excitable, so must his or her letter be. If your character is depressed, we should all want to cry at the end of the letter.

During our hours together, as the participants went around the circle sharing their letters, we all caught a deeper glimpse into the personality of the characters.And we, as a group, understood the story better. Coincidentally, so did the writer; each one expressed how much the exercise had done for them. How much deeper they were able to go in character development.

So, now it’s your turn. Give us the first paragraph (only) of your current protagonist’s birthday letter. 

I’ll start:
Dear Grand,

Today is my birthday. Twenty years old! Can you believe it? Twenty years old and married and living so far away now. At least to me if feels far away. And, yes, if you’re wondering, I’m still an awful cook, but I’m slowly getting the hang of keeping house if that makes you feel any better. Westley doesn’t seem to mind so much about the cooking, I think because he’s so preoccupied with all the other that’s going on. I’m sure Mama and Daddy told you about Michelle. To say that finding out about her was a shock is putting it mildly, but I’m taking it all in stride, Grand. Life can sure throw us some surprises, can’t it? You’d know that as well as anyone else in the world, I suppose. But—and I’ll be completely honest here—I sure wish Westley had told me about her before the wedding. 

Okay! Your turn!


Go deeper into your manuscript by knowing your characters - @EvaMarieEverson on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Eva Marie Everson is the multiple award-winning and bestselling author of over 35 books, both fiction and nonfiction. She is the president of Word Weavers International and the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference and North Georgia Christian Writers Conference. Eva Marie and her husband make their home in Central Florida where they enjoy a lake view, their children, and grandchildren. They are owned by a very small dog.


  1. "Dear Journal,
    How in the world have I survived to see another birthday? I've been on six operations in and around the mountains of Afghanistan in the past month. Between communications failures, fewer air assets to help ex-fil or provide support on contact. I was certain this last creep, near Tora Bora, was going to be my last. The "Talis" seemed to pour over the countryside. My spotter and I had to move six times to avoid capture. As a military sniper, my days are numbered. At least I know where I'm going when this life ends."
    I love the exercise this early in the morning. God's blessings Ms. Eva Marie!

  2. What an awesome exercise. Thank you so much. Great timing.
    Jay Wright; Foothills Writers Guild; Anderson, SC

  3. Today is my birthday. And I feel as if I'm on the brink of something major in my life. Six months ago, I started a new job, no, a new career with Estelle. A little over three months ago, I met Ben. We haven't really dated, I mean, we're both busy and it's complicated. But he's staying on my mind more and more, sometimes distracting me from my studies on fashion designing. My life is in overdrive. Do I have the time and energy for a career and a relationship? Only one way to find out...

  4. What an interesting lesson, Eva Marie. ;)
    Today's my birthday—I can't believe I've survived 33 years. I learned during our tour in the Middle East never to take life for granted. Since then my sensory sense is on magnification times ten. I've been places and done things I never imagined back in the desert of our youth. Some things were of exceeding merit; accomplishments I could be proud of. Somethings weren't so wonderful, but the world will never know of either happening, but today is my birthday, and tomorrow is another day. Congratulations on the new addition to your family...

  5. Love this idea, Eva Marie. I've done voice journals for my characters before, but a letter on her birthday puts a new twist to it. Who would she write to and why?

    Here's mine:
    Dear Johnny,
    Today's my birthday. I didn' wanna tell ya cause ya might think I want a present or somethin. I don't. I just thought ya outta know. Ya don' know nothin' bout me since I can't talk to ya and i don' know nothin' bout you cause I can't hear ya. But I know ya didn' start the fire. I jus wish I could tell everbody.