Friday, October 15, 2010

Birthdays and Character Development

Since it’s my birthday today, I’ve been thinking about the significance of birthdays in books and children's lives.

In my kindergarten classroom, birthdays are huge. They are a source of power, e.g. “I’m not going to invite you to my birthday”, and conflict, e.g. “I don’t want to come if there’s a clown.” The child who has a birthday loves to feel the attention that’s showered on them on their special day, not to mention the cake and presents.

As kids get older, they develop some birthday savvy. They might invite kids they barely play with to their parties to get more presents. Or they might bargain for not having a party if they can have a bigger gift. With teens, I’ve noticed that a birthday “party” could be as apparently ordinary as a shopping trip to the mall.

I’ve never thought much about my character’s birthdays, but given how important they are to kids, I should. In fact, the day a child is born turns out to be pretty important in my latest novel because that’s the day a decision is made about where a character is going to grow up.

Have you ever given your character a birthday party? How important are birthdays in your characters' lives?

-- Andrea


  1. Happy birthday! I think the way a character celebrates their birthday can say a lot about that character. Is the character popular, spoiled, shy, humble, etc.?

    One book that comes to mind when I think about birthdays is the first Harry Potter book. His birthday expectations are so low and the actual birthday is so sad. It really hammers home to readers how miserable his life has been while also providing insight into who Harry Potter is as a character, especially when contrasted with Dudley's ridiculously extravagant birthday.

  2. Happy birthday, Andrea!

    This is really brilliant; if anyone is looking for a writing exercise, write out what each character in your novel did on his or her last birthday. I get a lot of inspiration from holidays like Christmas and Halloween, but you reminded me how life changing birthdays can be before we turn 21.

    One of my favorite Terry Pratchett lines describing his eternal loser character Rincewind is that he got a button and balloon that read "I am six today!" from his family on his 7th birthday. That says it all.

  3. Ooh, interesting! I don't think I have! I contemplated it for one or two WIPs, but somehow the birthday celebrations never ended up in the story :)

  4. Oh, I'd forgotten all about how Harry Potter started with his birthday! Thanks for reminding me, Megs.

    Kate, I'm going to try to remember to always consider my characters' birthdays in my writing from now on. Even if it doesn't appear in the story, it's hugely important. So are other celebrations, like Hallowe'en. My 11-year-old spent half of this past weekend parading around in her costume, adding details.

  5. Marieke, you're ahead of me, because I often haven't even thought of my characters having birthdays!


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