I recently celebrated a birthday (no, I’m not admitting how old!) and that started me thinking about the way that something as basic as when they were born can influence the creation of a character when you’re writing a book. I don’t just mean when they were born, say 34 years ago, so that is their age at the beginning of the book, but other, more intriguing aspects of the influence of their birth.
Some authors like to use astrology as a way of getting into the nature and personality of their hero and heroine. There are books that go into great details about the way that your birthdate and so star sign affect your personality and your relationship with others. Books like Sun Signs by Linda Goodman detail the different characteristics of the Leo man or the Gemini woman – and discuss how they relate to each other. You can also take this further if you read Love Signs or Relationship Signs by the same author.
You don’t even really have to believe deeply in astrology to get something from books like these because, if you put aside the fact that the descriptions are headed ‘Taurus Female’ and ‘Scorpio Male’, you still get useful information and ideas about the way that a woman with this sort of personality will interact with a man of a particular type. Just knowing what things about each other will ‘rub them up the wrong way’ or where they might find an unexpected connection can often spark ideas either for the conflict in a book or the way that conflict might be resolved.
But another way of looking at when your characters were born and the way this can affect their personality is that of their birth order in the family. And this one had a particular interest for me when I was writing my latest Harlequin Presents novel, Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife.
Its amazing how brothers and sisters with the same parents, upbringing and life experience end up with such different personalities and interests. One school of though believe that your place in the family has a huge influence on how you'll turn out, determining everything from the type of career you'll choose to the type of person you'll become.
Although it's officially classed as 'pop psychology' its easy to believe that where you're born in relation to your siblings really does have an effect on how you'll turn out. Your place in the family hierarchy influences everything from the amount of 'quality time' you spend with your parents as an infant to whether you're the trail blazer or baby of the family all of which must have some impact on your expectations of, and the way you interact with, the 'outside world'.
Some believe that there are a certain set of identifiable characteristics that go with each birth position, and this is what they say:
For a while at least first borns receive the undivided attention of their parents. Being the first to do everything can mean you're doted on and overprotected while at the same time under great expectation to succeed. For this reason first borns are often perfectionists. Determined to live up to their own and their parents high expectations they hate to mess up and so are often quite cautious and unwilling to take risks. First borns can be fiercely ambitious and driven to succeed which is perhaps why more first borns are in 'high powered' jobs than any other sibling position.
On the other hand first borns have to make the transition from only child to sibling. Parents often encourage the eldest child to take on extra responsibility and 'be a grown up' to their baby brother or sister and while this can make first borns very caring towards others it can also make them very strong willed and quite stubborn when it comes to new ideas and ways of doing things.
More than anything middle children are different from their elder siblings, having never been the 'only one' they've got to fight for their parents attention somehow! Middle children sometimes act out to fight for attention, enjoy winding up their siblings and often adopt a hard done by attitude to life (characteristics often put down to middle child syndrome).
As they aren't the trail blazer of the family, middle children often have fewer expectations and less pressure to succeed placed on them by their parents and so are more likely to follow the life path they want to. They are often very sociable, have great people skills and lots of friends. Middle children often have good negotiation skills too, probably from the years of practice they've had competing with their older brother or sister!
The youngest child
The youngest child is often spoiled and treated as the baby of the family. As their older siblings have been there and done it all before they have far fewer expectations placed on them by their parents and so tend to be more impulsive and egocentric than their brothers and sisters. Having grown up as the baby, youngest children have to fight to be heard and so are often quite gregarious and outgoing. They also often have their parents wrapped around their little finger and are much more likely to get away with things than their brothers and sisters. As they have had so few constraints put on their development by their parents youngest children tend to follow more artistic pursuits and take more risks than older siblings, although they still tend to be treated as the baby even when they're grown.
The only child
Only children are very much like first borns in that they are blessed with the undivided attention of their parents, although this carries on uninterrupted through their childhood and beyond. For this reason only children often spend a lot of time with grown ups and so can be quite advanced for their years and can also be quite eager to please. However, having never had to learn to share only children can be quite egocentric and many have awful time keeping skills.
As only children don't have playmates on hand they have to learn to entertain themselves and so are often quite happy in their own company using hobbies to keep themselves amused. They tend to be quite independent as adults although just as the only child are often pampered by their parents right on into adulthood.
In Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife, both my hero, Raul Marcin, and heroine Alannah Redfern are born into a particular position in their family. Raul is the middle child, the second son, with a third child, as sister, who is younger than him. Alannah is the first-born, the older sister to her brother, Chris. So they start off with those roles as defined in the notes above. But Raul’s older brother died young, as a child, and so immediately he became like the first born, deeply responsible and ambitious, determined to succeed. In the present day too, when then tragedy intervenes, it changes both their lives in so many ways. One of which is that they are no longer in quite to same position in the family as they had been before. And part of the way that they adjust to that change also means that they behave differently towards each other as a result.
Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife is a story about family as well as the central relationship of the hero and heroine and so the ideas of birth order were particularly useful when thinking about this plot and, most importantly, about the characters at the centre of it. But what really matters is that this idea, or that of the astrologers with their star signs, give us useful tools, possible different ways to look at the characters we are creating and go deep into their personalities. And when you’re writing a romance where the characters are absolutely central to the story, any techniques like these are a great help in giving those characters depth and substance.
What about you? Where were you born in your family? And do you think that these definitions of the way that position affects you are true for you?
If you’re interested, I’m a middle child, and I think a lot of it is true for me. Let me know what you think and I’ll get Sid the Cat to pick a name at random from the posts to win a signed copy of my June book Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife so you can read about Raul and Alannah for yourself. You can read more about this title - and all the others I have coming up soon by visiting my web site here.