Friday, November 20, 2009

Birth Order in Character Development

Birth order takes on numerous shadings of meaning in character development. These shadings are often very explicit. First children are often hyper-responsible and “good”. Second children may spend their lives being second. Even second in their graduating class at Harvard. Middle children can go in several directions and are often regarded as “mysterious.” If a first child owns the “good little girl” slot, then the other children will find a different slots to own. It’s rare that children raised together share the same character traits. Bad child, brilliant child, lucky child, psychotherapist child, independent child, each child comes with a whole set of beliefs and characterizations.

It is not necessary for any child in a household to take on negative characteristics simply because one or more of the “good” slots are already occupied. Good, brilliant, fun, lucky, sweet, kind are all characteristics that children can notably own.

If you start developing a character and you notice certain characteristics developing (because characters do tend to emerge on their own accord), check those characteristics against his birth order and personality and discover what additional personality traits you can give him. Then, as you develop him in his family setting, figure out his relationship in terms of birth order to the rest of the family.

If your character doesn’t act the way that fits his birth order, figure out the exceptions and make note of them. Some people act exactly the way the experts predict. Some people might have acted that way but something came along that interfered with that line of development. It can be fascinating to figure out what happened, how and why it had the effects it did on the character. Unpredictability, like conflict, makes for good story telling.

How does your character interact with his family from the dynamics of birth order? What role does your character play? What roles do the other members of his family play? Are there exceptions to the birth order rules? How did life change the rules? How does birth order impact the plot?

If you were going to use birth order in a term paper, figure out the birth order, either by the characteristics the author gave the character or because the author told you, discuss how the character you have chosen has character traits that prove his birth order. Or take a few traits that you didn’t find in the story and explain why you would have chosen to add these traits to the character and how that would have benefitted the story.

To find out the rules of birth order and personality go to:

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