A Very Merry unBirthday to You!

Another thought on character development taken from real life. We recently celebrated our son’s first birthday. The cake was baked, the food prepared, streamers hung, and the birthday song sung. It was a great time all around.

During the preparations my wife made note that, “The first birthday isn’t really for the child at all, it’s more for the parents, family and friends.” After all, how many of us really remember our first birthday? We see pictures and are told stories, but we don’t remember them. 

At the same time that all of this is going on, my cousin who has a son about five days older than our son, is in the midst of preparing her party for her son. “What completely different lives these two boys are going to have,” someone noted. Without airing dirty laundry, I’ll simply say that life has not been easy for my cousin.

This got me to thinking about what the differences might be like at the two parties, the people invited, the locations, the kinds of gifts not necessarily given, but those that are encouraged by the parents and those that get slipped into a closet and hidden away. Will there be many cameras there? How many people come together to help out? Will the parents ask for help or try to do it all on their own? Does the child get passed from one person to another because everyone wants to interact with him or is he left by himself with a bunch of toys to entertain himself?

When it comes to getting to know our characters more, imagining that first birthday might help us to understand their beginnings and the path they eventually chose. So ask yourself some of these questions, not just about the protagonist, but anyone that you’re having trouble identifying with in your story. Sit in on that first birthday and take note. What kind of cake was served? Did mom make it or buy it? Was it a success (my wife’s was a huge success, her first time too)? Your character might not remember the actual event, but they the rest of their life stemmed from moments like these.

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