Friday, August 20, 2010

Figuring People Out: Birth Order and Your Characters

Photo by surely/stockxchange.com

So, there's a new man in my life and I can't figure him out.
Sure, he's just imaginary--the hero for my new work in progress (WIP). But it's driving me crazy that I can't nail his personality. Who is this guy?!
I've chatted about him in my critique group. I've even talked to my husband about him, if you can believe that!
This week I pulled out my dog-eared workbook from last year's MBT Storycrafter's Retreat. One thing bestselling author Susan May Warren suggests is to interview your character. During the interview, ask your character, "Who are you?" Keep asking why they do the things they do until you get to their motivations and values.
Okay. I've gotten over the listening to/talking back to the voices in my head thing that fiction writers do.
As I tried to get my guy--his name is Caleb--to tell me who he is, I realized he's a firstborn son. Aha! Time to do some research on birth order.
Dr. Kevin Leman wrote probably the best known book on birth order: The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are.
Basically, the birth order theory states that your position in your family--firstborn, middle child, youngest--influences your personality. What does birth order mean for Caleb, who is a firstborn son--and, for all intents and purposes, an only child? (I'm not telling you anything more because it will give away my story. Curious?)
Traits of Firstborn Children:
  • confident
  • organized
  • tend to be selfish
  • feel as though they are never good enough (hhhmm, interesting!)
  • want things their way
  • reliable
  • "grin and bear it" mentality
  • perfectionists
  • logical
One website I checked out, The Effects of Birth Order on Personality, even suggested that firstborns gravitated to jobs in law, medicine, computer programming or architecture. That doesn't mean that Caleb's going to be a doctor or a lawyer, but it's given me some things to think about.

Next time you're trying to understand a character in your WIP, ask him or her, "What's your family like? Are you the oldest or the youngest?" Then do a little research on birth order--and weave that information into the story.

Birth Order
(Child Development Institute)
Birth Order (Wikipedia)
The Power of Birth Order (Time magazine)


Jeanne T said...

Beth, what a great post! I have had some trouble nailing down my main man (in my story), as well. I hadn't thought to consider birth order. Thanks so much! I'm coming back to this post and checking out your links! :)

Edie Melson said...

Beth, your post came at just the right time. I'm struggling with a character as well and had completely forgotten about birth order! My once dead brain is literally teeming with ideas! :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

Glad to be of help, Jeanne and Edie!
I'm also checking out my heroine's birth order (middle child). I had her figured out pretty well and selected her birth order based on what I knew about her already. It just made sense that she'd be a middle child.
Have fun!

Roxanne Sherwood said...

Great post! It's fascinating how birth order affects us--and the people we create. Thanks!