Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Dipping the Quill Deeper: Becoming Characters Who Live Life

by Eva Marie Everson @EversonAuthor

When I was about 14 years old, I read a book my mother had forbidden me to read when I was 11, which was the age I turned the year it released. But at 14, the book showed up as a 4-for-a-dollar deal in my Scholastic monthly newsletter.

So, after paying my dollar, Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones (along with three other forgotten paperbacks) went home with me. 

I devoured that book. I read it, literally, once a month. I could just about quote it. It was this book that led me to a determination to become a writer, although I kept that goal and dream to myself.

“If I could write like this,” I told myself, “I really could write for a living. I could tell my stories.”

What Was the Difference?

So, what was the difference between this book and other books I’d read?

Answer: the ability of the author to make me feel as though I were a part of the story. 

How did she do this?

Answer: in my way of thinking, by having lived life.

In this case—in this book—the heroine and hero were 16 and 17 years old, respectively. Based on the date of Ms. Head’s birth and using an approximate writing date of 1966 (the book released in 1968 with a 1967 copyright), I can deduce that at the time of writing, the author was 51 years old—a far cry from 16 and 17. Not to mention that when Ms. Head was 16 (the age of the female protagonist), the year was 1931—a far cry from being 16 in the turbulent decade known for “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” 

Yet, somehow, Ms. Head placed herself into the hearts and minds of two teenagers who found themselves “in trouble” after high school prom (a story as old as time). 

I Think I Know

How often have you read a work of fiction and thought, “I have no clue what this character is feeling . . . thinking . . . doing.” As writers we are not supposed to tell the reader what the character is feeling or thinking. We are not to write things like, “She felt proud” or “She was scared.” Instead, we are to use dialogue and prose to indicate to the reader that the character is whatever emotion they’re feeling.

Let me give you an example from Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones (and this is absolutely one of my favorite scenes):

“Your mother and I have been talking this over, and there are a few questions we want to ask you…”

“Only one,” my mother said in a shaking voice. [She was nervous.]

“Whatever your answer,” my father said, “we are agreed that an annulment is still the only solution, but this would admittedly complicate things.” He stopped and glared at Bo Jo. [He was firm.]

“Yes, sir,” Bo Jo said. [He was respectful.]

“Then you do know what I’m driving at?”

Bo Jo looked at me, and I said, “What are you driving at, Father?” [She was nervous.]

“Have I got to put it in words?” Father said, and looked at Mother who looked at her hands, which were holding each other in her lap and said, “Are you two in trouble, July?” [She was embarrassed/concerned/nervous.]

I started to speak, but Bo Jo straightened up in Father’s chair and leaned forward. I didn’t say anything, and after a minute of leaning forward and cracking his knuckles, he said, “We were, Mrs. Greher. We aren’t anymore.” I could have kissed him. I could have jumped up and down and clapped my hands. [She was relieved. She was proud.]

Do you see what I’m saying? (By the way, for any of you who don’t know it, we rarely see “italicized thought” in today’s fiction. Instead, you want to write in deep third or deep first.)

So, I think I know how Ms. Head did this and I say this as someone who is currently writing about a 17-year-old girl in 1973/1974—something I can totally relate to. 

Although Ms. Head would have had different experiences in 1931 than July and Bo Jo had in 1966, she knows what it’s like to question life. To fall in love. To deal with parents. She had some inkling as to the differences “the haves” from “the havenots.” She experienced life and she dug deep into her experiences and her feelings about those experiences to write a book she will always be known for. 

Here's another line from the book, spoken by the newly married couple’s landlady, a spinster named Hattie Barnes.

[Hattie] said, “I suppose the only way to get married is when you’re too young to know any better.”

I blushed and she said, “I suppose you’re going to have a baby.” But she said it so matter-of-factly I couldn’t get mad, but couldn’t think of anything to say either, and suddenly she smiled. 

“Don’t mind me, child. It’s pure envy talking. It may seem to you now that life has you by the throat, but at least you know it’s there. Life has never laid a hand on me, child. Not even a finger.”

What an amazing line. If I had to guess, I’d say that Ms. Head knew what it was like to feel as though life had her by the throat and I’d also guess that she knew someone who felt that life had never laid a finger on her.

As writers, we are fairly content to live our lives in a little bubble. Sure, we go to conferences or to workshops and occasionally to a big convention. But we prefer the quiet of our own company. 

Still, this doesn’t make for good writing. Life is to be experienced (John 10:10). 

Today, I attended the funeral of a great man. When his family and friends stood behind the lectern to speak of his life, they relayed stories of a man who had lived life to the fullest. Each one said the same thing—In a way, Frank will always be with us because he was just that kind of guy. That’s what I want people to say about me, too. I want them to say I was “that kind of gal.”


My challenge this month is this: go out there and live life. Enjoy it. I’m not talking about doing anything illegal . . . but grab LIFE by the throat and experience it so that you can more accurately write about it. So that your readers know that you know what you’re writing about.

Then . . . go write about it. 

Go for it. Go for life.


Eva Marie Everson is the CEO of Word Weavers International, the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, and the Director of Contests for Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. Her latest work, Ahoti: A Story of Tamar, co-written with Israeli bestselling author Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, released May 14, 2024 (Paraclete Press/Raven Fiction). For more information about Eva Marie, go to www.EvaMarieEversonAuthor.com.


  1. I love this post, Eva Marie. Besides a great reminder about living lifr to its fullest, it's a good one for always digging deeper.

  2. This is a great post by someone who lives what she’s talking about. Perhaps that’s why it resonated so deeply with me. Great post.