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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Using Birth Order to Develop Characters posted by Author R. Ann Siracusa

What affects do you believe birth order has on how people develop, their character traits, and values?

All authors, when they first begin writing, search for ways to develop characters and their motivations out of nothing but an idea. None of the innumerable approaches are right or wrong. Whatever works for the writer.
My novels tend to be driven by external conflicts, so I usually have the story idea before I start developing the characters. That provides clues about the personality traits my characters will need to support and move the storyline. What sort of people, under what circumstances, could reasonably get themselves into that situation? And what kind of character would figure a way out? Other writers start with the characters, some meld both situation and characters.
There are innumerable books on how to develop characters, basic personality types, and what traits go with each. Those authors are more qualified to give advice to other writers.
A writer can always use real people as models for characters or create a written biography of the person. The biography approach has never worked for me. I like to discover who the characters are is and what they like and dislike. Part of the joy of writing is when they do or say something I never expected or planned.
A couple of other fun methods I've tried include: Astrological signs [which works best for matching the personalities of the hero and heroine and their compatibility issues]) and birth order [which can provide strong motivations].
To tell you the truth, I've never put much stock in either astrology or birth order … you can always make a case for or against the traits and/or motivations of any particular character … and real person. But they can provide a beginning point and are fun to play around with.


Although birth order has been studied extensively over the years, it's a difficult area to study, which makes the topic controversial ... both the studies themselves and the findings. Studied have always been complicated by gender of siblings as well as by the birth order and time span between children.

Today, making results even more confusing, we have blended families of step-siblings, half-siblings, and adopted siblings which obscure the "real" birth order. We have single parent families, ethnically blended families, and large spacing between sibling and other factors which skew birth order effects.
Nonetheless, birth order does affect, but does not determine, how we interact with the others, our personality traits, and romantic compatibility. Birth order has a great deal to do with how parents treat children, which is part of what forms personality. Not all families are "typical".
When I write, I use birth order to help me identify the characters' motivations.

These traits showed up in all or most of the sources I reviewed as characteristics of first-born children:
● Conscientious, reliable, serious, mature, cautious
● Natural leaders
● Diligent, high achievers, goal-oriented, want to be the best at anything they do, ambitious to succeed
● Structured, controlling
● Perfectionist
● Strong need for approval from people in charge
● Don't easily admit they are wrong
● Don't like surprises
● Protective

For me, the character traits of middle-born children are questionable. After all, in many families with more than one child, the middle-born may be a last-born child for a number of years, and the poof … suddenly he or she finds himself [herself] now in the middle. I suppose that's why spacing between children is so important in studies.
Middle-borns are difficult to categorize, but you can be sure they will develop different interest and skills from those shared by the family. They will also prioritize friends and peer groups since they don't feel they have a special place in the family.
These traits are identified as characteristics for middle-born children:
● People pleasing, good friend, peace-maker, go-with-the-flow attitude
● Social, thrives on friendship
● Rebellious, doesn't like being told what to do, doesn't like to be boxed in
● Adaptable
● Independent and resourceful
● Insecure and secretive
● Obsessed about fairness
There seems to be more agreement among the experts on the middle-born personality traits, although to me rebellious seems to be in conflict with other traits such as adaptable.

These characteristics showed up in all or most of the sources as characteristics of last-born.
● Social, outgoing, fun-loving, charming, free-spirit
● Babied, spoiled, attention-seeking, self-centered, pampered [One source said "babied to the point of helplessness".]
Again, the traits indicated below were referenced in only one source and seem contradictive, in some cases, to the more universal ones.
● Financially irresponsible
● Risk-taker, rebellious
 Tender and altruistic

● Uncomplicated, agreeable
I haven't found any reference that describes families with several or many middle-born children. However, I've observed over my many years that, in families with more than three children, the middle-borns usually have very different personalities.

Only-children are simile to first-born, only more so. They are typically mature for their age. This may have something to do with spending time with adults. Many only-children are high achievers, some are rebels who march to the beat of their drum.
Remember, first-borns are also only children for a period of time.
● Mature, confident
● Comfortable with adults as children which makes them comfortable with people when they are adults
      ● Perfectionist
      ● Conscientious       
      ● Diligent
      ● Verbally precocious
      ● High achievers
      ● Don't take criticism well
      ● Tend to do well in school as children


According to Chinie Diaz []  "Whatever the case -- whether you're true to your birth order personality type or not -- it's always good to remember that personality type theory really only serves as a tool for greater self-awareness. And and tendencies we may have are simply that -- TENDENCIES.

If they're good ones, then by all means nurture them and allow them to blossom. If they're bad, well ... that;s the beauty of being free and intelligent humahn beings. We always have the choice and ability to overcome that which makes us less than great."

That about says it all!


with a novel by Author R. Ann Siracusa


Cara Marsi said...

Interesting post. I like the idea of using astrological signs to determine your characters' personality traits. I don't know if I put much stock into the birth order thing. I'm a first-born and I do display a lot of the characteristics of the first-born. With four of us siblings, my sister and one brother are in the middle. She has many of the characteristics of a middle child, but my very successful brother has the characteristics of a first-born. My youngest brother, while spoiled, doesn't display any other of the youngest child traits.

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Cara, like I said, I don't put much stock in it either, and you can always find characteristics that match or don't match. Sometimes I use it to look for motivations, like being a middle child and never feeling wanted or important. I use astrological signs more, not because it's any more or less true, but books about it often describe which other signs are most compatible or incompatible. I'm youngest in my family, and there is a lot about me that doesn't fit at all. Just another tool. Might as well have fun with writing since we are all compelled to write. Ann

joye said...

What about twins? I think just being a twin enhanced my personality


Melissa Keir said...

I found that to be particularly true of my family of five girls. Although the middle girls have similar characteristics depending on where they are in the family. I love to write about families because their dynamics are always fun!

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