Study after study shows birth order has a profound and lasting effect on a person. When we look at our families, it’s easy to see this, but have you considered using the information we know about birth order to create depth to your characters?
But why is birth order important in fiction? Can’t we make characters do whatever we want? Not if we want to connect with readers. To reach our readers our characters must ring true on every level. When you say a character is the oldest in a family, but then give him or her qualities of a youngest child, something about the character hits the reader the wrong way. The reader might not be able to put their finger on what seems off, but there is still a disconnect.
In my current series, The Gregory Sisters, I turned to birth order to help me bring the three sisters to life. I wanted each of the sisters to not only be individuals, but also to be so real that readers would say, “Oh, she reminds me of my sister.” In order for that to happen, I used some of the research available on birth order.
There are many factors which can affect birth order such as the size of the family, parenting styles, gender, and distance between sibling’s ages, and when you’re creating your character you need to take those things into account. For example, I’m a second born, but my brother is eight years older than me. Because of that, I have some oldest child and some middle child characteristics.
|Click to Buy|
In my Gregory Sisters Series, the three sisters promise to help each other achieve their dreams. The scene below is from my current release, While Love Stirs. As you read it, see if you can guess which sister is the oldest, the middle, and the youngest.
Bubbles surrounded Charlotte. She leaned back, closed her eyes, and let the warm water ease her aching muscles. Ah, heaven.
She felt someone staring at her. Opening her eyes, she found Tessa sitting on a stool with her elbows propped on her knees. “What was worse—the tornado or being stuck with Dr. Brooks all night?”
“Tessa!” Charlotte sat up, splashing water out of the tub. “Joel was a perfect gentleman.”
“Joel?” Hannah stepped into the bathroom and placed a fresh nightgown on the hook behind the door. “You’re on a first-name basis? I wasn’t aware you and the doctor had become friendly.”
“I wouldn’t say they’re friendly.” Tessa sat back. “They fight like Grant and Lee.”
“She’s exaggerating, Hannah.” Charlotte scrubbed her face with a washcloth. “Dr. Brooks and I have talked a little. That’s all. And for your information, Tessa, except for the tornado, we had a pleasant evening.” Charlotte flicked suds at her sister’s cheek.
“You know this means war.” Tessa scooped up a handful of suds and let them fly in Charlotte’s direction. She fired another handful at Hannah.
“Hey, what was that for?” Hannah held her hands out in shock.
“Payback.” Tessa giggled.
“Pacing insufferably until Charlotte came home.”
“Why, you little—” Hannah gathered a handful of suds and aimed them at Tessa. The suds war was on.
Did you peg Hannah as the oldest? She is the care-taker, the one bringing in the fresh gown and hanging it on the back of the door. The youngest? I’m pretty sure you had no trouble assigning that role to Tessa. She’s fun, disrespectful, charming, and wants to know everything. The middle sister Charlotte, who stars in While Love Stirs, is the peacekeeper.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that we know about birth order. Remember, these are tendencies. They are not set in granite.
Only Children tend to:
Create imaginary companions
Struggle with frustration
Spiritually want to settle issues of right and wrong
Strengths—demonstrative, organized, clarity of purpose, stable, academically successful, self-confident
Weaknesses—sullen, reluctant to share, not street smart
Gets mad when being intruded on
Qualities—prefer to work alone, extremely responsible or very helpless, stubborn, comfortable being the center of attention, stays on the beaten path
Oldest children tend to:
Wait for attention instead of demanding it
Struggle with guilt
Spiritually desire a loving church community
Strengths—agreeable, visionary, leadership, compromise, responsible, academically successful
Gets mad when shown a lack of respect
Qualities—ambitious, achievers, trailblazers, conservative, people-pleasers, authoritative, leaders, plunges into things and gets into difficulties
Second born children tend to:
Be perfectionists about what they care about
Struggle with inadequacy
Want emotional connections
Spiritually wants everyone to be committed
Strengths—friendly, self-discipline, attention to detail, consistency, diplomatic, creative
Gets mad when criticized
Qualities—sensitive, verbal, social, competitive, more risk taking than oldest, more adaptable to change, mediators, avoids confrontation, watches for trouble when moving forward
|Click to Buy|
Third born children tend to:
Be emotionally strong
Struggle with fear
Spiritually wants to gain strength through prayer
Strengths—sympathetic, compassionate, imaginative, practical, can be outgoing, fun to be around
Gets mad when being putdown
Qualities—more cooperative than competitive, easy to get along with, social, manipulative, demand attention, can be charmers, can be rebellious, will risk to help others
Fourth born children tend to:
Not listen to themselves
Struggle with anger
Want to belong
Spiritually wants a personal relationship with God
Strengths—empathetic, thinking, understanding, ambitious, life of the party, not people pleasers
Gets mad when being blamed
Qualities—not taken seriously, manipulative, adaptable to change, risk-taker, attention seeker, charmers, demand attention, impatient, often rebellious, goes against the flow
Did you know two first-borns seldom marry? And if they do, they often struggle with power issues? Isn’t that great fodder for conflict? The most compatible marriages are between two third-borns and the most common are between an only and a second.
Birth order affects everything from the way we drive to the way we parent to the job we choose, so it’s vital that we consider the birth order of our characters so that they ring true with the reader.
How do you see using birth order can help you with your current characters? Have you considered this aspect before? As a reader, have you ever noticed when a character’s action didn’t seem to fit the person’s position in the family?
Leave a comment for a chance to win one of two copies of While Love Stirs.
Here’s a little bit about While Love Stirs:As a graduate of Fannie Farmer's School of Cookery, Charlotte Gregory is thrilled to have the opportunity to travel, lecture, and give cooking demonstrations on the very latest kitchen revolution--the gas stove. And she certainly doesn't mind that the gas company has hired the kindhearted Lewis Mathis to entertain at her lectures.
Lewis encourages Charlotte's work, especially her crusade to introduce fresh, appetizing, nutritious food to those convalescing in hospitals. But young hospital superintendent Dr. Joel Brooks is not convinced any changes should be made--especially by this outspoken young woman.
When Charlotte and Joel are coerced into planning a fund-raising gala for the hospital, will this combustible pair explode?
Follow the second Gregory sister as she looks for true love and makes her way in a rapidly changing world in this breezy, lighthearted love triangle that will keep you guessing.
Lorna Seilstad brings history back to life using a generous dash of humor. After her first child was born, she quit teaching and became a professional wiper. She says she wiped noses, tears, skinned knees, and baby bottoms, but at nap time, she wrote. She is the author of the Lake Manawa Summers Series and the Gregory Sisters Series. She and her husband have three children and call Iowa home. Find out more at www.lornaseilstad.com