Friday, October 17, 2008

Backstory: Birth Order - The First Born

Psychological studies validate that birth order makes an impact on an individual’s character, relationships and success factor. Since it is a significant influence on individuals, it is important that authors understand the tendencies that birth order triggers and also how this sways when the individual comes from a dysfunctional family. Although I touched on this topic under characterization, more details will be helpful to the serious fiction writers who wants to create believable three-dimensional characters.

Because backstory—the individuals’ past—influences who the individuals are today, you can see how understanding birth order can help to create a more in-depth background for the novel’s characters.

The first born is the first child brings a new level of dynamics to a family. The child is the first experience the typical life challenges. Because they receive the family’s full attention, they are given many opportunities their siblings won’t have. This can create a special relationship between the child and his parents. He knows they are watching, therefore he learns to be resourceful and competent. When he does, he reaps a positive reward when the meet the parent’s goals. These children tend to be goal-oriented and assertive. They want to succeed and they will pressure themselves to do so.

• resourceful and self-reliant
• driven, makes demands on himself
• takes charge, needs to have control
• conservative, follows rules.

Family relationships:
• parents document the child’s life with intensity
• parents provide attention, take time to play and teach skills
• parents expect achievement and have expectations
• siblings can be envious or can admire or both
• siblings look to the first born as a role model

• can be anxious to please and create self-pressure
• sets high standards and demands success
• can be unforgiving of their failures

Family Dysfunction
When you add to this mix family dysfunction, a new dynamic is added to the characterization. Although family dysfunction does not have a restrictive definition, it refers to the situation where the relationships between family members do not contribute to emotional and physical health. Common family problems that cause the dysfunction are alcohol and/or drug addictions, abuse—mental, physical and/or sexual, severe behavior problems from a family member, personality and eating disorders, and extreme aggression. Other types of problems that can cause dysfunction is severe family illnesses in the home, such as: Alzheimer disease or dementia of an a elderly parent or grandparent, a life-threatening or terminal illness, psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia or bi-polar. These conditions draw attention from normal family relationships and a normal lifestyle that can affect family members.

Families are affected by things that affect the usual relationship dynamics. For a first born, the problems magnify their normal traits and complications to their functioning in most relationships

• feels responsible to find a solution to the family problem
• needs greater control outside the family situation
• anticipates disaster and worries about it
• distrusts family actions and promises
• shows outward anger

Career and First Born
Psychology studies and surveys from universities and career building sources show that birth order tends to affect career success. First born show many traits that help them succeed. They are well-disciplined, follow rules, and are driven to succeed. They are also assertive and ambitious. They demand excellence in their endeavors. A recent survey indicates that first born workers are most likely to earn salaries of a $100,000 or more from professions that require higher education. These careers will often put them into high management positions.

First born in dysfunctional families will often be lead to careers that involve social work, psychology or counseling.

Obviously these traits added to a character can create excellent internal and external conflicts in fiction. The next few blogs will cover the birth order issues of others in the family.


The Surrendered Scribe said...

This is fantastic information I've never seen anywhere else. It makes perfect sense to know birth order for the backstory. I look forward to the other traits.

D. Gudger said...

I had an epiphany today - Dr. Phill is a great source for strange larger than life behaviors. People who fear band-aids...

But this stuff is cool. Feeds that psych degree side of me :)

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks so much,both of you. I'm a licensed counselor so working this info has been very helpful to me and I enjoy sharing the ideas with others to help develop deep characterization.

Wishing you happy writing,

Avily Jerome said...

I just discovered your blog- loving it so far! Thanks for all your awesome tips!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Avily - I'm glad to hear you found me. I hope you continue to enjoy it. I'll be posting more on birth order in a few days.


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Gail -

What happens if you're the oldest, middle, and youngest? Yup, I'm an only child. Would the oldest child scenario fit best?

Susan :)

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Susan -- That's my next post -- the only child. It's usally feast or famine for that one. Yes, they do have many traits of the first born with just a different spin. I'll have that up at the end of thise week.


D. Gudger said...

This is good stuff to browse through to help me w/ deepening and texturizing my characters. Also helps me understand myself.