Friday, July 27, 2012

Tell Me About Your Birth Order, & the Birth Order of Fictional People

So after talking to my father today about the car he was considering buying my "baby" sister I began to think about birth order and how it pertains to fiction and real life. Now, the man and I are both oldest children (who by the way bought there own cars) and I feel as though we are quite a lot different then our siblings. Our personalities are different, the way we feel about our world is different, and we live our lives differently.


How does this translate to fiction--are there stereotypes that appear in literature and would you say they are there for a good reason?

Now I want you to think about your favorite books. Tell me about the characters in them. Are they only children, oldest children, babies? And do you think that impacts the story and how so?

Comment here with your answer for a chance to win a $25 Amazon Giftcard or e-giftcard

9 comments :

sestinatim said...

I think it matters a lot. There's no doubt that birth order has a psychological impact in the "real" world, so it makes sense that an author would recreate that in a fictional one.

One book I loved (rather series) where this plays out prominently is The Hunger Games. Katniss is the oldest child, and much of her stubbornness and brazenness can be attributed to that. Meanwhile, her sister is a much gentler soul who has been sheltered and "babied" despite her difficult surroundings, which is much more typical of a youngest child.

The Weasley children in the Harry Potter series also demonstrate a lot of these sorts of traits, with Ron a classic middle child.

In _The Perks of Being a Wallflower_, Charlie is the baby of three children where the oldest brother has always been the star of the show. His sister is melodramatic and constantly trying to distance herself from Charlie, who acts and feels like a naive "baby" throughout most of the novel. Though it's revealed that Charlie's introversion may be due to other causes, it's not surprising that a youngest of those three children would have a hard time fitting in or having much of a personality.

I'm having a hard time coming up with books about adults where the birth order is made clear to the reader. I wonder if that is because the differences are more keenly felt at younger ages, or if it tends to be less integral to an adult's story?

Hildred said...

I'm an only child and most of my characters tend to be only children. Life is just easier and cleaner and more organize that way :P When I do write characters with siblings, it's usually with just one or two, because I don't know much about having siblings. I do have two stepbrothers, but they weren't around much. But when they were I was the "middle child". But I was still the only girl. And still my mother's only child. (Let's be real, that's all that matters =P)

I dunno, thing about being an only child, you tend to be more independent and loner-minded. My characters tend to not have many friends either. Although from an author point of view, I do this on purpose to keep track of less characters. So...idk =P

Maurice said...

I'm the oldest of three, and birth order definitely affected our personalities later in life. My middle brother constantly gets compared to me and can get frustrated when he feels like he doesn't measure up. The youngest had practically no pressure on him and he's a wild child. I'm generally the most responsible of us. Most of the characters I write are first-born or only children.

Larry Kollar said...

I'm also oldest of three.

In my fiction, Cody is the oldest of two. His little sister drove off with his parents, but he does talk about her some. While he admits he considered her a PITA before, now he misses her the most.

Now that I think about it, there's a disproportionate number of only children in my stories…

Anonymous said...

I'm the youngest of four. My parents bought cars for us in high school, but I was the first of my siblings to pay off their own car. I think when you get to a certain point (maybe 4 kids) what looks like being "babied" to the older children is actually just the parents not caring anymore. I probably had it easier than my older siblings, but I always felt like an outsider. This is reflected in my stories more than birth order is. I have a lot of only children whose parents are either not in touch or are dead. Or they are somewhere in the birth order of a larger family but are for some reason ostracized from the family because they don't fit in with the family culture.

Just a note, you should refrain from calling grown adults 'babies.' ;) Perhaps the constant infantilizing from strangers leads to the feeling that no matter what they do and how hard they work, people will care more about stereotypes and view them as worthless spoiled brats. Sorry. Pet peeve. Stereotyping is always dehumanizing.

Angela Kulig said...

So, if sterotypes aren't rooted in reality; where do you think they come from?

Amy McBay said...

I'm the oldest of not only the siblings but the cousins as well. I was always held to a different standard than my 4 sisters and brother. Being the oldest, I was expected to watch over the youngest and if the messed up I was punished too because "I should have known better..." I think being raised this way made me much more mature for my age and more capable.
I was also very imaginative as the first born, since I spent more time on my own in the early years entertaining myself.
I certainly think there are stereo types in fiction that relate to real life. The youngest is often babied more than the rest because they are the last to leave the nest and mom and dad are not quite ready to let go. You see this in Kim Harrisson's Rachel Morgan series with Rachel's friend Ivy's babysister. She lives at home with mom and dad and is spoiled rotten.

Annikka Woods said...

I'm fourth out of five, with nine years between me and my next oldest sister. I've got two years between me and my younger sister.

I don't get along AT ALL with my three older siblings - part of the problem is my brother is seventeen years older than me, my oldest sister is fifteen years older than me, and then of course there's the sister that's nine years older than me. None of them were really there for me. By the time I was "interesting" (according to my oldest sister) they were all moving on with their lives.

My "baby" sister was born mentally disabled and it was my "responsibility" to take care of her, according to my parents. So I did. I resented her for it. But I took care of her. My younger sister and I were also far more sheltered, partially because of what happened with the older three. My parents didn't want their "babies" (yes, my parents referred to me and my younger sister as their babies until we were teenagers) to have the same influences/bad experiences as the older three had. This caused an even bigger rift between the older three and me. Everyone loves my little sister so there's no real conflict there. (I outgrew my bitterness and at least the four of us older ones can agree on SOMETHING.)

Regarding my characters, yes, birth order is definitely reflected in how they interact with the world. Some of them are only children, but others have responsibility for younger siblings, or have antagonistic relationships with elder siblings. The ones with siblings reflect the kind of environment I grew up in.

Heather Jacobs said...

I'm the product of a his/hers/ours family. Both my parents had two children from previous marriages when they came together. My mother's first husband died and their two children (the oldest of all of us. One boy, one girl) lived with with my parents. My father's first marriage resulted in divorce and his two boys lived with their mother. My sister (the youngest of my mom's kids) is 10 years older than me. So during my formidable years I was raised alone with my folks. So I'm the baby of the family, who for the majority of my life felt like I was an only child.

This definitely has leaked into my writing. Most of my main characters are only children or have large families with much older siblings. It's funny how that happens. I never thought about it much until you mentioned it.