Thursday, February 4, 2010

Birth Order and Character by popular Superromance Author, Abby Gaines

Ruthy here: A brief intro...

Well. Brief by Ruthy standards!!!

I first came across Abby when she was coordinating a contest I entered. Now, mind you, I'd entered twice, and was pretty sure of myself (like you're surpised, right???) and when I got the results back, I think I kind of sat down in my chair, stared at the numbers and the comments, and then hired a crane to lift my lower lip back in the vicinity of my jaw.

Abby's first contact with me was when I blew judge #1 in (the only time I have ever done that, EVER...) for her unprofessionalism. And the second manuscript was wonderfully judged, that judge was spot on, tight and knew her stuff, but the first one...

Oh mylanta. I e-mailed Abby only because I'd just finished coordinating the Barclay Sterling and had been a category coordinator for the Genesis for two years. I figured I'd want to know if something was that wrong, that far gone because a contest's reputation is staked on those awesome judges that give of their time and talents.

That was our first encounter. Oddly enough, she still likes me. We haven't quite figured that out yet, but I'm content. I like being liked! Abby's bright, refreshing and humorous writing has been well received both in Superromance and the Nascar line. Read what she's got to say about birth order and characterization and leave your e-mail in your comment for a chance at an Abby Gaines romance.

I promise, you won't be sorry!

I’ve always been fascinated by the science of birth order, by how a person’s position in their family – oldest, middle child, youngest, or only child – affects their personality, decision-making, education, career and even their marriage.

Some years ago I read The New Birth Order Book, by Kevin Leman (available in CBA bookstores). Dr. Leman is a youngest child, so the tone of his book is a little too me-me-me for my oldest child sensibilities. I’m not dissing the good doctor here, I’m just saying that birth order also affects how one writes and reads! My own preference is for a crisper, more authoritative style, but that’s because oldest children are usually as bossy as youngest children are self-indulgent.

I found I shook up my writing when I considered other birth orders for my characters, both heroes and heroines. Think now about your current wip, and ask yourself where your hero or heroine fits in the family. There’s a good chance you’ve defaulted to the oldest or only child and that’s not surprising – romance novel heroes are usually successful, commanding, often bossy, and those are often traits of the oldest or only child. My early novels, and in fact most of the romance novels I can think of, have featured heroes who were oldest or only children, or psychological oldest children (meaning, for example, there was a big age gap between them and the next kid up the line).

The same goes for heroines. We like our heroines to be responsible and independent, again biggies for the oldest child. I’m not saying others in the family don’t have these qualities, by the way, it’s just that they often present themselves most strongly in the oldest.

But I’ve found that using the other kids in the family adds variety to my work. I’ve recently completed two trilogies – Those Merritt Girls is a Harlequin Superromance trilogy about three sisters, and for Harlequin NASCAR I’ve written three books about the Matheson brothers.

It was a lot of fun creating a realistic family dynamic for those series, based on the mindsets of different birth orders. The characters’ goals and conflicts rose naturally out of their birth orders, and that made it easier to develop each story.

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about middle children yet – and that’s not surprising because those middles are so often overlooked! But middle children are perhaps the most complex, certainly the most mysterious, in the family – lots of conflict for the eager writer to mine.

So, next time you’re trying to come up with a fresh character, put some thought into which birth order you’ll use. There are other books as well as Dr. Leman’s and it’s well worth reading up on the subject.

If you have questions or comments about birth order, please fire away. One commenter will win their choice of either Her Surprise Hero (Superromance, Jan 2010, third in the Those Merritt Girls series), or The Comeback (Harlequin NASCAR, Feb 2010, the third Matheson brothers book). In case you’re wondering, Her Surprise Hero is the oldest daughter’s story, and The Comeback is the middle son’s story.

Ruthy again... Coffee's on and IT'S FRIDAY!!!! Reason enough to grab a mug and pop in, tell Abby all about your H/H and how they match up in birth order. It's amazing how life's patterns affect us in so many ways!


Debra E Marvin said...

I'll have to read Dr. Lehman's book because I have three children and absolutely they do not fit their oldest, middle and youngest profiles.
Does gender have any influence on that?

And I'm an only child, so I'm spoiled and get everything I want. Actually it means I feel responsible for everything and everyone's feelings around me and no one ever challenged me on that. And it makes me clueless as to those kind of sibling dynamics.

Thanks Abby, I'm sure birth order is a great way to add depth to our characters--I've never thought of it.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I'm from a mega family, so birth order is skewed a bit, and there was a big gap in the middle, skewing it more. It kind of made me the 'oldest' of the younger group, and I can see that in retrospect.

I find I do tend to pigeonhole my characters based on their family placement somewhat, then I cross-section that with totally fun layers of angst, disfunctionality and some emotional disturbance...


A girl's gotta have fun, right????

I think it's that layering that makes Abby's characters delightfully 'today' and identifiable.

Hey, I brought food. I refuse to do Super Bowl food before Sunday, a nod of respect toward our New Orleans and Indianapolis teams training regimens. The LEAST we can do is pump up alongside them, right????

Can you PUMP a Krispy Kreme??? I had them cater us a wall full of naughty delights because, after all, WE"RE not playing the game, making bajillions of dollars to stay in shape and get beat up. Uh, uh.

We're the couch potatoes who wait with baited breath for the newest Clydesdale commercial or the trading-savvy baby that loves e-trading and trounces the old guy at golf.

Now that's my kind of kid.

"Shankapotamous..." I laugh myself silly every time I see that.

Sorry. Off track.

Back to birth order.

And coffee. Need coffee....


Audra Harders said...

Good morning, Abby and welcome to Seekerville! It's Friday so we're celebrating with no-cal Krispy Kremes...Hey, dreams come true on the cyber buffet : )

What a wonderful, thought provoking post, Abby! You are so right about the birth order influencing your characters. If you just figure out where your character falls in the family, you character traits are ready-made and waiting for you to dress them up.

I'm an only child and though I'd love to write about H/H who come from a large family, that's not the way I think. Sheesh, I have to two kids and for the life of me, I don't understand what all the fighting and competitiveness is all about.

I'm lucky to have examples of family life beyond my own from extended family. I always try to figure out why I just don't have patience for certain friends and family. I try to work it out in a story.

Being a writer is really very theraputic : )

Thanks for stopping by, Abby!

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Abby. Wow, I love the cover of Her Surprise Hero! Thanks for the interesting post. My heroes and heroines are older or only children and I didn't even realize it. LOL I also have lots of dead parents. But that's another discussion.

As a middle child, it's nice to hear I'm complex. Ah, I think. I would love to hear more characteristics of middles. I'm the only girl with two brothers so that may change the dynamics.

Audra, my d/h is an only child too. He always wanted a sibling so never understood why our kids fought upon occasion. I'd have to reassure him fighting was normal. Too bad, but too true. :-)

Go Colts!!!!!!!!!!!


Debby Giusti said...

Hi Abby,
So great to have you with us in Seekerville! Abby and I met at a Kiss of Death tour in ....? I'm drawing a blank. Maybe Dallas. Neither of us had sold (right?), but we had manuscripts on editors' desks and things were looking good for both of us. One of the treats of going to RWA is seeing Abby!

Love the birth order book, although I'm not sure about the bossy only child comment. Just kidding. Some only kids are that way. Certainly not moi! :)

My mother was a classic middle child. A beautiful woman who grew up thinking her older sister was the pretty one. My mom wore glasses, had to wear her hair in a Dutch boy bob and thought she was the ugly stepchild. She eventually realized her own strengths but never forgot those feelings she'd had as a child.

Thanks for providing another resource for writers!

I'm refilling my cup! It's raining cats and dogs in Georgia. After years of draught, we're getting swamped now. At least it isn't snow.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Abby.

I am currently reading Her Secret Rival and I love it!!

Is there any regular jet fuel left in this place??

BTW, I am, yes you guessed it, Ms. Bossy is a first child.

Rose said...

I've never thought about birth order when I've developed characters so this is a new idea to me.

In my current WIP, the hero is the oldest of two children. His sibling is a girl. His interaction with her is protective and teasing. Are either of those traits reflective of his birth order?

Yum...Krispy Kremes. I haven't had one in ages, maybe I'll take two so I have energy to scoop snow yet again!


RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

Melanie Dickerson said...

This is fascinating, Abby. Can you give an example of how you've used a middle child as a hero or heroine?

Right now I'm working on a book where the heroine is an only child and orphan, and the hero is a middle child--youngest son with a couple of sisters younger than him. He can't understand why the heroine doesn't act anything like his younger sisters. But how does his status as middle child affect him? I've never read any birth order books.

Pepper Basham said...

Just stoppin in for a donut and coffee before I head back to another meeting.
I'm with Ruthy - I'm the oldest, but my birth-order is a little skewed because I grew up with 3 miles of ALL of my mother's family members - including cousins. It was like a commune ;-)- in a healthy way.
I have the independence of a first-born, I guess, but the only bossiness I'm good at is with my kids.
Speaking of which - watching birth-order dynamics in a larger family is really cool...and scary. I'll have to tell Lydia (she's the third in the group of five) that she's complex. I always just called it whiny!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Abby's on a slightly different time frame, so we'll play around 'til she gets here.

High test jet fuel... I just restocked, Tina. Oh my heavens, did you just see that guy run out the back door with coffee??? Doesn't he know it's his for the taking? No sneaking around needed???

Although sometimes it's JUST MORE FUN to sneak...

I did not say that out loud.

Okay, birth order.

(Rose, take three donuts, really... Pam's bringing more later, and they have DELICIOSA ICED CARAMEL LATTE'S AT KRISPY KREME... just sayin'.)

Okay, sorry, side-tracked again: And by the way, Abby's Merritt girls trilogy... Tina's reading one now.... hysterical. Nice family dynamics, totally fun and fracturedly dysfunctional. I felt right at home.

Middle child, Mel...

I have two middle children
(6/3 = 2)

They're pretty sure the younger two are spoiled, indulged, got more stuff, less-disciplined and overall were the favorites.

They're fairly certain the older ones were show-off smarty-pants, in-your-face, bossy, egotistical braniacs with little regard for anything but the world surrounding THEM.

Both scenarios had a hint of truth.

Yes, the older two were smart. And bossy. The rest was probably a HINT overdone in the eyes of middle children...

The younger ones? They got away with more partially because:

A. I was tired :)
B. So was their Dad
C. We hadn't ruined anyone YET.
D. They were cute

So obviously I ruined the lives of the middle children, who never, ever, ever, ever felt quite as special, loved, nurtured, anointed, blessed and/or fed as the oldest two or the youngest two.

My answer:

Tell it to Oprah.


In actuality though, it isn't the REALITY of what the timing offers, but the perception of it since kids are notorious for seeing things from their singular perspective. It isn't until they're grown with kids of their own (more than one kid is clutch or it DOES NOT count and did you hear/see Janet Dean say her kids fought on occasion???? Oh my stars.... I am NOT letting her sit at our Thanksgiving table EVER!)

that kids really 'see' and can assess what was truth and what was their personal experience.

One Mom's Perspective.

Grabbing a donut. Yummy.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pepper whiny is the first synonym listed after complex in the dictionary, sweet thing....

Followed by "pouty, disgruntled and sometimes argumentative".


Julie Lessman said...

Whoo-hoo, I love Fridays and I love this blog!! Welcome to Seekerville, Abby--this is a fun subject!

I thought about what you said regarding birth order, and whoa, baby, I do believe you are on to something here. I have never thought about it before for my characters, although I have thought about it plenty for myself. Like Ruthy, I'm from a mega family that skews the birth order a bit because I was #12 out of 13 kids, but fell into the tail-end group of the last 3 kids who were their own isolated family by a number of years. So that makes me the middle child, but also one of the youngest, so I never knew exactly where I fit. Kind of a mutt of sorts, birth-order-wise, that is.

But, ironically, I must have inadvertently fused the birth-order traits into my Daughters of Boston trilogy about four sisters because I am kind of freaked out how well it fits. But I guarantee you that you have given me a lot to think about in brainstorming my next trilogy -- thank you!!

And both of your books look and sound GREAT!!


Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Ruthy. That helps.

I hope y'all don't mind if I analyze my hero here. You don't? Thanks. :-)

Okay, he lives in a time where the oldest son gets everything: the castle, the money, the land, the vassals, the politically correct wife. So he already knows his future doesn't look that bright. Also, he doesn't care for fighting, and he doesn't much hanker for a monk's life, but he has good parents who are trying to arrange for him a nice rich wife. However, he longs for adventure, which leads him to try to save the heroine. But it turns out she doesn't think she needs his help. She can save herself, thank you very much. She's led a tough life and she's capable.

So, how does a complex middle child react to such a situation?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Since I'm procrastinating going to the grocery store, I'll attempt to answer my own question.

He is somewhat piqued that she doesn't "need" his help. Then he finds out how dire her situation really is and he completely gets over himself and goes all out to save her, even if she doesn't want him to, because he knows she really needs him--and she's worth it. He's determined to marry her no matter what happens (if he survives, that is) and he figures it's worth it if he has to die to save her. But he wants her to realize--and admit--that she does need him, which creates more conflict.

I don't know if that has anything to do with birth order, but it help me, anyway. :-)

Vince said...

Hi Abby:

I’ve read four NASCAR romances and these four books differed more from my perception of what they would be like than any other romances. After reading my first NASCAR book, my ears were still ringing from the engine and crowd noise and I could still smell gas fumes in the house. Indeed, NASCAR itself was a major character in those books. I think it would benefit every romance writer to read at least one NASCAR story. The energy is just amazing.

I read the first wave of birth order books when they first came out and I felt they were mostly on target in respect to my own family. I was a middle child but I was also a ‘Jr’ so I got a lot of the first child pressure to achieve. My father would say: “You have my name. I expect more from you.” I think sons will get a lot more of this pressure than daughters. I read at the time that all seven of the first group of astronauts were “Jr’s”. I bet they heard the same thing from their fathers.

I think birth order is a little like astrology in that a good portion of it rings true for many people. We tend to forgive the parts that don’t fit because the theory is fun or useful. Do you consider the ‘sign’ of your characters? You could and that might help with the back story as well.

What I am most interested in is how birth order affects marriages. What is the ideal match up and what is the least favorable coupling? Have you read anything on who should marry whom? I can’t remember if I have. I would think a first son would do best with a youngest daughter but I have nothing to base this on. I’d be interested in knowing what others think would be the best combination.

BTW, there are also interesting theories on how what a child is named affects the child’s personality. Do you consider how the names of your characters affect their behavior? In the end, do we all need to become psychologists? : )

Thanks for your post. This is a very useful topic.


Susan Anne Mason said...

Well, my family blows these birth order theories apart.

I'm the oldest but I was the meek one, not much self-confidence as a child and young adult. I tried to prove myself by getting good grades and staying in the background. Still hate to be the centre of attention.

My younger brother on the other hand was loud, rebellious, extremely confident, almost cocky and very opinionated (of course he's always right!). We fought terribly as kids but get along great as adults.

Also, I married the youngest of four and he is very self- indulgent! So that part is right!

Interesting ....

Have a great day!


Sarah Forgrave said...

I heard Dr. Leman speak at a seminar one time, and he is HILARIOUS!

My family also defies the typical order. Without meaning to, my parents gave birth to three first-born types. My sister comes by it by being the first-born, my brother by being the first boy, and me by being 10 years younger than my sister (basically means starting the order all over again). That equals a room full of perfectionists when we all get together. LOL

Mary Connealy said...

ABBY!!! I own that book. I really love the ideas I've gotten about characters from it.

How cool. I especially like the way he mixes things up. Oldest child with non-confrontational tendencies. Youngest child with confrontational tendencies. Passive oldest child.
I'm forgetting specific terms.
It's much more complex than the usual oldest perfectionist leader, youngest spoiled princess, middle attention grabbing charmer.

I love it that you use the book. There's a list somewhere in it that I read. Four 'types' and it just matched my four daughters so closely that I could have written the list.

Abby Gaines said...

Hi all, sorry to be getting here so late. (Actually, I arrive everywhere late,despite being a perfectionist oldest child...or maybe because I'm an oldest child and I'm so convinced of my own capabilities I think I can do more than the average person before I have to leave to go somewhere! :) )
Anyway, I'm about to unleash a load of posts, replying to 2 or 3 of yours at once...

Mary Connealy said...

Vince, I remember in Dr. Lehman's book he said that when two first born children marry and they'd come to him for a troubled marriage for counseling when they were at logger heads it was a terrible mess. But, if he could get them to actually quit fighting and work toward reconsiliation the whole marriage just cleaned up FAST.
When they work together they're unstoppable, when they're at odds, it's real disaster.

I thought that was interesting.

I've got two married daughters. One couple is oldest children and they are so organized, they are a great team always with goals and talking through details constantly. They seem to be in great harmony...I hope that keeps up for life. :)

The other couple is middle children and they are both charmers, really fun. They're smart, hardworking people but not too much so. They seem like a great combination.

Here's a little sub-context. My younger married daughter, was the youngest for five years. So I think she has some youngest child tendencies.

My second daughter who was the middle child for a long time really doesn't fit the people pleaser, attention loving middle child at all. She's very independent and has always 'marched to her own drummer'.
But I see middle child tendencies in her, just not hard and fast.
It's all very ephemeral and not hard and fast at all. But it is fun.

Abby Gaines said...

Debra, gender can have an influence, where, for example, a second or third child is the first of its gender in the family. Sometimes that child will have oldest child characteristics, because the parents have in some ways treated it like an oldest child. But gender can also work the other way - if the last child is the first of its gender, it might end up even more 'pampered' (ok, this is how an oldest child sees it, I'm sure you youngies might not agree!) because the parents were so thrilled to finally have a son/daughter/whatever.

And, yes, as an oldest child it's very common for you to assume way too much responsibility for the feelings of people around you!

Ruth, my hubby is like you, the oldest of a second batch of kids after a big gap. He has a lot of oldest child tendencies...until you put him in a room with his older brother and suddenly his inner middle child comes out!
I love Krispy Kreme, btw!!

Myra Johnson said...

Fascinating topic, and welcome to Seekerville, Abby! I'm the "baby" of three children--only my brothers were 26 and 21 when I was born, and one was already married! So I'm actually more of an only child. Very confusing.

I always felt cheated that I didn't have a sister close to my age. Then I had two daughters a year apart, and they fought (and still do sometimes) like crazy!

Abby Gaines said...

Hi Audra, thanks for the welcome! You said:
>>>I'm an only child and though I'd love to write about H/H who come from a large family, that's not the way I think

Actually, it's not the way I used to think in my writing either, even though I'm one of 4 kids. Maybe partly because "tradition" has characters who are oldest or only, maybe because romance novels are very tightly focused so we leave out extraneous characters, or maybe because we want to give a sense of our characters standing alone against the forces ranged against them...there are lots of good reasons to default to oldest or only...but as I discovered, lots of good reasons to think outside that square, too.

Janet, I love the cover on HSH, too, I'm thrilled with it! Let's not go there re the dead parents, I'm sure my very much alive parents must think I have a secret orphan fantasy, LOL!

Middle children are the hardest to generalize about, because their traits can be influenced by the age gap either side, whether, like you, they're the first in their gender, etc. More on middles later!

Mary Connealy said...

I too am from a mega family. HEY, is THAT what makes Seekerville work? The on gazillion brothers and sisters softened us up???

I'm third of eight.
But we are all REALLY CLOSE, no stragglers. My mom had eight kids in eleven years. Can you IMAGINE.

She's 82, completely healthy. It's a wonder she survived. :)

The three oldest were all girls and I'm girl number three. We were always referred to as 'The Big Girls'.
And we were a year, bing, bing. Baby girls.
Then two years, yes two WHOLE YEARS between me and by brother.

Then after me it was boy, girl, boy, girl, boy about a child every 18 months.

I don't know if there's a birth order there. My oldest sister seems really easy going. My second sister has some first and middle child tendencies. After that, well, we're kind of a jumble.

And we were poor. I don't think we could afford personalities, so teh book doesn't work really all that well for us.

I do have one sister, the fifth child, who always says no one ever paid a speck of attention to her.

At least I think that's what she said, I wasn't really listening....

Abby Gaines said...

Hi Debby, it was Reno! My very first RWA and what a blast it was. You and I both sold fairly soon after that, I think. I don't think I would have sold when I did without all the learning I had at Reno. I highly recommend RWA National, folks - I've signed up for Nashville already!

Tina, thanks for the nice comment about Her Secret Rival. As you know, that's the middle child story in my Those Merritt Girls series. It's possibly my favorite in the trio...but then again, maybe not!

Hi Rose, yes that protectiveness trait is another reason why we often choose oldest child heroes! As for the teasing - definitely a reality with any brother, no matter where they come in the family, I suspect! But the motivation might be different depending on the birth order. Subconsciously, an oldest male child probably feels he's more on top of things than his siblings, so his teasing might be indulgent, even slightly superior (in a nice way!).

A middle child's teasing might have an undercurrent of 'something to prove'. And a youngest child's teasing might be because he's so happy-go-lucky he just doesn't realize how serious life is! (Very frustrating to us oldest kids!)

Abby Gaines said...

Melanie, here are the two middle children I've written about, and what makes them 'typical'.

In Her Secret Rival, Megan sees her older sister as smarter than her, and her younger sister as prettier. (Since her younger sister is Miss Georgia, she's pretty much right about that!!). Megan wants to take over the family law firm when her dad is forced to retire for health reasons. She sees the job as a means to get close to her dad, now that her older sister (who'd been expected to take over the firm) is on a stellar career trajectory toward supreme court judge (an ambition that gets cruelly overturned, btw, in Her Surprise Hero!).

Megan's problem is that her dad loves her but has always overlooked her. He says things like "You're just like your sister", and Megan's heartfelt thought is, "No, I'm just like me. When her dad tells her she doesn't have the visibility etc to take over hte firm, she sets out to convince him she's the woman for the job by taking on a mega-case. Unfortunately for her, her opposing lawyer on the case also wants the job and is just as determined to impress her dad. Poor Megan, she's always being squeezed out by someone!

In The Natural, my Harlequin NASCAR release this month, Zack has been living in another city since a feud with his younger brother (the dad's favorite) drove him out of the family race team. (Middle children, btw, are most likely to end up living far away from the rest of the family, so I've used this trait). His older brother is the boss of the team. Now, Zack wants back into the team and the family, but he's just not the kind of guy who can brush aside the hurts of the past. His family aren't much better, interpreting even his least offensive comments as digs.

By the way, in both these books, the middle child is least likely to discuss her feelings with other members of the family which seems to be a common trait. Also, fyi, middle children are deeply loyal and are very good friends. They tend to have a lot of friends and rely on them for affirmation etc more than they do on family. This is certainly true of my own middle child!

sorry about the long post...!

Abby Gaines said...

>>I always just called it whiny!
LOL! She probably just feels misunderstood...and she's probably right!

Ruth, you're mostly right about the tell it to Oprah comment! Because the fact is, no matter how hard we try to make our middle children not feel like middle children, to some extent, you're doomed. They just always feel that way. I made a point of telling my middle daughter recently how much I admire that she'll give anything a try and do it really well - she's simply amazing like that. Half an hour later she complains I never compliment her. I remind her of that compliment I just paid her, and she says dismissively, "Yeah, but you didn't meant that."
** tearing hair out (mine, not hers, though I was tempted :) ) **
Nope, a middle child will always feel like a middle child, I'm afraid.

PatriciaW said...

I think a lot of readers would be surprised to discover how much effort authors put into knowing, well, just about everything so that they can make it all seem effortless on the page.

I've never read in depth about birth order stuff, but I figure it's like anything else. There's some truth, and there will always be exceptions. I think what would be interesting are novels in which people act opposite to their supposed birth order traits, and what makes them do so?

Abby Gaines said...

Julie, isn't it great when you discover as a writer that you naturally did something right!! Like discovering you have a 3-act structure in your story. The first time I realized that I walked around for days patting myself on the back. Then I realized it didn't actually make the writing any easier... But, yeah, once we're aware of something, we can make sure we get the most out of it.

Melanie, your middle child hero's desire to 'run away' and find adventure is very much in keeping with his position in the family (see my earlier comment about middles leaving home). He wants to be his own man, out from his brother's shadow. Possibly prove something, at least to himself, if not to his family, that he's got as much going for him as big bro.

Re the heroine...if she's an only child, her lack of dependence might well irk the hero who's trying to prove himself in the protector role that's traditionally his brother's. Plus, she might try to boss him around, and he's had quite enough of that already, thank you very much.

Abby Gaines said...

Hi Vince
>>>My father would say: “You have my name. I expect more from you.”
But no pressure, hey?! This is a lot for a kid to live up to... Yes, there are always things that won't apply to us, or we choose to ignore. But a lot of the birth order stuff does ring true. But if it doesn't work for a writer, then he/she shouldn't use it, of course. For me, it's a reminder to look beyond my own narrow oldest-child perspective. I'm shocked to discover that not everyone is uber-competitive, btw, and not only that, but they don't think it's a problem that they're not competitive! :)

I'm not sure about names influencing personality. Certainly some names are more widely chosen by some races or some socio-economic groups, so you might end up with, say, a whole lot of doctors called Charles. But that's because Charleses have parents who can afford medical school, not because being christened Charles unlocks the doctor gene... BTW I have no idea if Charles is a big name for doctors, I'm just creating an example...

Abby Gaines said...

Sue, actually, you're not as outside the dynamic as you think. Kevin Leman talks about oldest children who are "discouraged perfectionists". For whatever reason, maybe but not necessarily too-high parental expectations, the discouraged perfectionist decides she's not going to play the oldest child game, effectively giving the fight to be first and best. The second child eagerly jumps into the gap, probably unable to believe his/her luck!

Now, this might seem that I'm trying to have it all ways...but read the book and see if you agree! Certainly with my oldest child, while he's in most respects a confident oldest child, when he was younger he wouldn't do something if he thought he wasn't going to be brilliant at it. Part of my job as a parent has been to encourage him to let go of perfectionism and remind him that being good at anything takes practice...

Sarah, your family sounds like an overwhelming place to be!!

Abby Gaines said...

Hi Mary, nice to find someone else who's read and loved the book!

I generally don't see middle children as people pleasers - at least, not within the family! They like to please their friends, maybe, but with relatives, in my own experience at least, middle children are more "you better like me as I am, and if you don't, it's your fault not mine!" Very strong feelings, most of the middles I know...again, though, that's with their families. They are more flexible with friends, and can be good mediators.

Myra, it does sound like you'd be an only child, with a dose of "princess" thrown in, due to being the first and long-awaited girl! That princess thing goes well with both the only child and youngest child positions.

Hi Patricia, the "discouraged perfectionism" I mentioned a couple of posts ago is one reason to act the opposite of your birth order. You're right, going against type can be very effective...and even better when you know what it is you're going against!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Good tips and idea, Abby! Thanks!

Sally Bradley said...

Abby, I'm just starting to see the birth order in my own kids. We had two kids for over seven years when a third one decided to show up.

So my now middle child was for seven plus years the youngest. Is there anything in the book that covers how that would affect a child's personality? Do they retain a lot of the youngest child behavior even as they move into that middle child role?

Abby Gaines said...

Sally, I think your newly middle child could go either way...or a bit of both! (please note, my comments are not as an expert on the subject, just as someone who has read several books about it!). It might depend if your youngest is the same gender or different from the middle kid. And of course, the way our parenting changes can have a big effect. Dr. Leman covers topics like how the birth of later kids changtes things in his book.

Tina Pinson said...

Interesting, Abby
I've written my characters across the sibling board. Do I get their attitudes right good question.

I'm the middle of five girls and the only blonde, talk about birth order.

Right My character is a triplet. And I've written one where there were five girl's

Abby Gaines said...

Tina, with so many siblings of the same gender, your family might be the perfect birth order case study!

Okay, folks, I'm heading to a church working bee for a couple of hours...see you soon!

Anita Mae Draper said...

I like this post - both Ruthy and Abby's parts.

I'm a middle child and yes, our family was just like you said.

But my 4 kids aren't the same. I believe because of the time factor. By the time the 2nd child was born, the first was already 12 yrs old.

When the oldest child left, the 2nd child assumed the responsibilites of the older child. Since she was only 8 or so, it didn't seem like she had an older sibling anyway.

Then my 2 boys are only 3 yrs apart and we kept telling son #1 that we wasn't allowed to beat up his baby brother. So the youngest took advantage of it. It wasn't hard because son #1 is sensitive to start with.

Now that the 2nd oldest child is gone, the youngest has assumed her position. Poor Nick. caught in the middle and too scared to fight back. *sigh

Pamela said...

This has been fascinating to read everyone's experiences. My husband falls solidly into the middle child/oldest son pattern-- we live far away, but he still takes care of his mother. I buck the mold -- the youngest by 7years, uprooted & grew up in a different state, older parents, siblings out of my experiences are more that of an 'only'. My heroine & her sibling also defy type...she is older, but brother is an adult with Down's Syndrome. They take care of each other in a very complementary way. Hero is about to break that up though, & life gets messy before it settles down again. Frankly, never thought about his birth order until this post, but I think middle child--dependable, reliable, solid, independent, but with hurts. I must order your Nascar series Abby. Zack's story sounds intriguing.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I have a friend who lost her oldest child to an accident in his late teens.

Her second son then became the 'oldest child'.

Not on purpose, mind you, because Tom knew he wasn't the oldest, that Paul would always have that role, but for all intents and purposes, to everyone who met this family after Paul's tragic death, Tom WAS the oldest.

Talk about role confusion. For fifteen years he'd been the middle child and then moved into the pole position overnight.

It created weird family dynamics. I think it still does. No one has forgotten Paul and his role, but twelve years later, Tom is 'still' the oldest.

And it's had its own strange effect on family dynamics with both parents, siblings, cousins, friends, etc.

Odd how we position ourselves mentally, isn't it?

Abby Gaines said...

Anita Mae, it sounds like you're pretty clued up about your kids!

Pamela, your story sounds interesting!

I'm just heading a chapter meeting now, back in a couple of hours!

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

About firstborns married to each other you wrote:

“When they work together they're unstoppable, when they're at odds, it's real disaster.”

Isn’t this the perfect combination for creating conflict until the 'black moment' and then laying the groundwork for a lasting HEA?

BTW, don’t you have at least two novels in which the heroine has four daughters? Are the age differences the same as your real life daughters? The arguments the fictional daughters had with each other seemed very real to me.

Your comments about the daughter who no one listened to reminded me of a story Woody Allen likes to tell about the time he was kidnapped and his father fell asleep while reading the ransom note.

It seems to me that the middle child gets the least attention. The youngest always needs help and the oldest is always setting the example for the rest of the siblings to follow.


Vince said...

Hi Abby:

Do you happen to know what percent of NASCAR drivers are first born? I’ll bet it’s well over 50%.

Also under the law of primogeniture only the oldest son would inherit the land. William the Conqueror’s army was said to be made up of second and third sons trying to win an estate for themselves. I think you comments about middle sons is true and has a lot of history for support.


Abby Gaines said...

Ruth, an interesting (and sad) story about your friends and their sons.

Vince, excellent question about NASCAR drivers - I have to admit, I've never done that investigation!

Walt M said...

I've never considered this for my characters, and I had three brothers in my first WIP.

I'm the middle child, but the only boy. This was a dynamic onto its own.

Abby, thanks. You;vegiven me a lot to think about. I will have to look into this.

Holly said...

I read this book many years ago for a Child Psychology paper in college. It's amazing how accurate it actually is.


Abby Gaines said...

Walt, glad to have given you food for thought.

Holly, thanks for the validation of the book - sounds like you're more qualified than I am to talk about this stuff!