In Others' WordsIn Others' Words

Thursday, July 07, 2011

In My Words: How Birth Order Helps You Figure Out Your Characters

For all the times we novelists hear voices in our heads -- thank you, fictional characters -- there are times when we just can't get a handle on the hero's or heroine's personality.

Maybe you've filled out half a dozen questionnaires. You know your hero's birthday--and his birth weight. You know his given name and his nickname.You know his favorite foods and his favorite football team. But you still can't figure out what makes your hero tick.

A while back, I was working on the beginnings of a new story. My hero stayed in the background, refusing to talk. He was, to put it plainly, one frustrating guy.

I grabbed my well-worn workbook from the My Book Therapy (MBT) Storycrafters Retreat and started interviewing this guy--his name is Caleb--to discover more about him. One technique that authors Susie May Warren and Rachel Hauck endorse is to ask your character "Who are you?" and then keep asking  "Why?" until you uncover his motivations and values.

Since I'm no longer embarrassed to admit that I ask fictional people questions -- and I expect them to answer me -- I started throwing questions at Caleb. Before too long, I realized Caleb was a first born child.

A ha! Time 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. The birth order theory states that your position in your family -- firstborn, middle child, youngest -- influences your personality.

So what does birth order mean for Caleb, a first born son -- and, for all intents and purposes, an only child? (Can't tell you anything more without giving away my story. Sorry.)

Traits of firstborn children:

  • confident
  • organized
  • tend to be selfish
  • feel as though they are never good enough (ve-ery interesting)
  • want things their way
  • reliable
  • perfectionists
  • reliable
  • "grin and bear it" mentality
Now all I have to do is figure out which of these traits are part of Caleb's personality -- and how these will play out in the story.

Additional Resources:

In Your Words: Have you ever considered birth order when you were developing your characters' personalities? What did you discover? How did that affect your story? If you haven't, maybe you need to ask your hero or heroine "What's your family like? Are you the oldest or the youngest?"

photo by kodiak1/

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At 9:19 AM, Blogger Jeanne T said...

Love the idea of figuring out birth order of my characters, Beth. :) I need to read that book and learn a bit more about my characters. Thanks for sharing this insight!

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous ADL said...

That's a great technique. I use it to figure out my dreams, asking questions of dream characters, situations and even objects. I receive great insight and messages from these interactions. I definitely will be asking questions of my story characters. So far I have been putting words in their mouths!

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Glad the birth order idea helps you! It's going to be a go-to technique for me.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Edie Melson said...

I love this technique - it gives us a firm foundation to let our imaginations soar!

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Thanks, Edie. I really enjoy crafting a character from this angle too.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Sue Santore said...

You're never too old to learn something new. This is a great idea that I'll use in my next book.


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