Your Character and Birth Order

When I was a child, I loved paper dolls. I would create my own out of cardboard and the Sears catalog. Another good source of paper doll characters was McCall’s magazine featuring Betsy McCall. Monthly, the magazine offered the paper doll complete with outfits. All you had to do was cut out the doll and make her come alive.  With a little imagination, your paper dolls could turn into well rounded characters with personalities and lives of their own.

I want to make my fictional characters well rounded individuals and not one dimensional. I want them to seem real. And the Internet is a great source for character building information.

Lynn Viehl provides helpful information in her article, Ten Things to Help with Developing Characterizations.  She suggests you discover your character's horoscope, favorite colors, books he or she reads and (my favorite) what they purchase and make them a part of your character. When you discover this information, your character becomes a person.

But I have one more to add to the list in character discovery and that is birth order.  Where does your  character fall in birth order? Is your character firstborn and bossy (or is that just me)? Is she too serious? Is your character a middle child longing for attention? Or is he or she the clown of the family? Your character’s birth order may cause him to react with anger to being criticized. Your character may let others walk all over her because of her place in the birth order line.

I had some things to learn about my main character. She is an only child of an only child. Does that influence her to be self-centered? Does she long for companionship? Does she suffer from loneliness? Is she a persistent personality? And what happens between my main character and her mother if they were both only children. Is there conflict? My MC was bland until I considered her place (or birth order) in her family. Now she is much more interesting as I make her act and react to her birth order tendencies.

You can agree with birth order research or not, but it may help you to understand your character  a little more.

Three online sources for birth order information are:
The Effects of Birth Order on Personality
Child Development Institute - Birth Order
Birth Order: Your key to Compatibility

Where do you fall in the birth order chain?  Or if you're working on a character, where does he or she fall in that order?

Sources: Paperback Writer, Lynn Viehl, Wikipedia


  1. Teresa, when I saw the blurb for your post come across my news feed I had to laugh. I was an avid fan of Grandma's McCall magazines for - you guessed it Betsy McCall. I loved to design new clothes for her I pasted her on cardboard to make her sturdier and soon was drawing my own dolls. Do children this day in age have time or the inclination to do such things?

    And I do agree with you - know your character so you can make us totally relate and get immersed in the book.

  2. Ahh paper dolls! Now that brings back many happy memories, and where my love of clothes probably originated. And yes I think birth order has a lot to do with personality. I never thought of using it to help establish character, what a good idea!

  3. I think it has an influence. My two main characters butt heads often due to their independence, and while neither is an only child, they were both raised as such.

  4. Do you have any idea how excited I am to find someone else who remembers Betsy McCall? I bet I still have those somewhere, packed away.

    I'm an only child, so I'm always struggling with the birth order issue when I write about families. My best friend growing up was the eldest of six, so I use their dynamic a lot.

  5. It sounds like we have fond memories of Betsy. It made me smile when I found the image.


  6. I love this idea! I'm a middle child of 5 and witnessed lots of different dynamics within my own family growing up. But I never even thought to bring birth status to my characters. What a great tool to really layer their personalities. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. OH, JW, I love articles like this. I love the psychology behind my characters... and myself. THank you so much for this.


  8. I'm the baby. Lately, with a death in the family, and all the responsibilities that went with that process, it's really been clear to me. It's so much a part of who I am.

    My MC is an only child, and it played a large role in who she became. It's not so apparent in the book, not spelled out that way, but it's there.

  9. I love this post, Teresa.
    Awww paper dolls.. I loved them when I was a that just brings back so lovely memories!!
    And yes I agree.. birth order has a lot to do with personality. I've experienced it in my own family.
    Thanks for sharing those links! :)
    ~B xx

  10. I loved paper dolls! Unfortunately, I don't think my boys will be playing with them any time soon!

    Interesting oldest boy Sprout is turning into a leader already at age 4. My baby, Cubbie, at 2 is our silly little goofball, and follows his brother everywhere. So I guess when it comes to my kids, I see some of the birth order theories coming true.

    BTW, it's ME!

  11. Hi Teresa .. I did make dresses .. but I don't think I cut out paper dolls and dressed them - a good idea though.

    I had a doll which I think my grandmother won - too late in the day .. I was 12 or something .. but she was wonderful and had the full dress set - someone had spent a lot of time fulfilling the doll's life for all eventualities .. I hope she went to a good home -

    I'm the first born .. decision maker - get on with life .. or that's the theory!

    Thanks .. bye .. Hilary

  12. I hadn't thought about paper dolls for years. I used to do the exact same thing with catalogs and Betsy McCall. I'm a big believer in the power of birth order and love thinking about it as an aspect of character in writing.

  13. Really fascinating! Now I'm curious to check out the links and see if they have me pegged according to my birth order.

    Great idea for sharpening up characters. :-)

    - Corra

    The Victorian Heroine

  14. I tend to have a lot of only children as my MCs:) I think because then I don't have to explain where the siblings are. Thanks for the links!


Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving a comment.

Popular Posts