Do Characters Need Birthdays?

This is something that’s been plaguing me for a while.  Is it necessary for characters to have birthdays?  I’ve read many fantasy series where the birthdays pass without notice or aren’t mentioned at all.  Personally, I never really thought about them when I’m in the position of being a reader.

Yet, I think about it a lot when I’m writing.  Do I bother?  I only have vague ideas of most birthdays.  Nyx was born on the Day of Darkness.  Luke Callindor was born in early spring.  Sari might be a winter baby.  Beyond that, I have no idea and wonder if I should go to great lengths for this.

Maybe it’s a culture thing too.  Birthdays in our world are grand affairs for many, which strikes me as odd.  I would assume surviving another year in a world with dragons, demons, and monsters would make a birthday more precious.  So, it could be that most fantasy worlds are nonchalant about it.  I have time to figure it out since the 6th book takes place in winter and I won’t be starting it until later this year.

Do character birthdays factor into your writing?  What about when you’re reading?

Legends of Windemere: Prodigy of Rainbow Tower Coming July 31st!!!!

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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57 Responses to Do Characters Need Birthdays?

  1. Olivia Stocum says:

    I don’t think I would worry about birthdays unless it played into the story. i.e. character depressed because he’s turning 40 and feels like he’s accomplished nothing with his life.

    You bring up a good point. One I never thought about.

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    • Good point. Maybe have them mention them at times. One character’s birthday is going to have to happen, but it’s plot. I wondered because I’ve started seeing a few authors talk about character birthdays.

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  2. Alex says:

    I generally keep a character’s birth story in my head and file away a character’s view of their birthday away as part of their personality. However, I usually find – as writer and reader – that whatever would occur on a character’s birthday is usually irrelevant or simply not as interesting as the main story. Perhaps these things are happening in the background, off-screen, and we’re just not mentioning them in the text?

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  3. That’s a fun thought! I’ve never given my characters birthdays: either a date or a celebration.

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  4. Seán Cooke says:

    In one planned-novel the birthdays have a small part in the plot, but other than that I’ve never put any weight on them.

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  5. I suppose that birthdays may be worth writing into the story if they have some significance, but otherwise I don’t know that too much need be made of them. Like you said, living another year in a dangerous world is probably of more significance than a birthday.

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  6. tjtherien says:

    for writing I am currently dancing around the whole Birthday thing by making the concept of time a vague thing. Sun goes up, Sun goes down. The air was chill, the air was hot and sticky… that type of thing. I refer to warm and cold seasons to mark the passage of time.
    While reading if the story takes place in context of years where time is defined then I think it is an important aspect to give a little reflective insight into the character. Even people that don’t celebrate their birthday still observe it, even if it is only in there thought. I think birthdays are very introspective times for people and so should be for characters if they don’t dance around the passage of time as I have… lol….

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    • I use seasons to help me remember which of the four moons is prominent. The birthday factor could also be done off camera or used to start or end a story. Just a fun what the characters are up to since you last saw them thing.

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  7. howanxious says:

    if not birthdays, give them their initiation days… e.g. when they realized their power r when they were given their first responsibility or the date when they achieved their first feat..
    I guess readers would connect if the characters be made a little like them, even if it is a fantasy series.

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    • Realizing their power might be a tough one because that negates any years that came before. Birthday is the easiest way to set a timeline for a character. I’m just wondering how much attention should be on them.

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  8. LindaGHill says:

    Since, when I’m reading, it never occurs to me when a character’s birthday might be, I assume it’s not mentioned unless it’s part of the plot. In fantasy, the only birthday I can remember is Bilbo Baggins’s.

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  9. sknicholls says:

    Mine did. A couple had their birthdays as part of the progression through time.

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  10. spoplawski says:

    Paying attention to secondary ornaments of personalities that in fact never exist/ed? Characters in fantasy stories are like like real heroes from very remote past. Would we pay attention to the birthday celebrations of Aristotle, Horace Mose etc. when describing them? Just being focused on their main roles/messages that gave them fame.

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    • We do celebrate the birthdays of a few historical people. Washington and Lincoln come to mind. Fictional characters are odd. If an author’s goal is a character that is relatable and human then the mention of a birthday and their reaction can help. Real people are already documented, so they have an advantage. Now as a present tense writer, such events might be even more important. I write in the fictional now instead of the fictional past, so my characters age is more prominent.

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  11. twixie13 says:

    I tend to have birthdays for my more prominent characters, even though their birthdays don’t have much bearing on the story (except for one or two of them, anyway). But it’s mainly for the sake of making them as real in my mind as I can. But it mostly helps me keep track of passage of time in their universe. Same goes for me with anniversaries.

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    • Never thought about anniversaries. It brings the whole ‘life event’ importance into question when the characters might have something more important to think about. After all, who has time for cake when a world-devouring demon or a swarm of dragons are about to show up? That’s just fantasy though. I can see how less action oriented genres can take advantage of these types of events. Romance can use them for plot purposes pretty easily.

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  12. My characters have birthdays and I use it as a way to gauge the passing of ‘real’ time for them.

    I’m also an amateur astrologer, so I’m always fascinated if their chart and aspects coincide with the personalities I’ve developed. It goes into their character profile, but isn’t a huge part of their “make-up.” Sometimes, things will dawn on me when reading the chart, and that’s always fun.

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  13. Excellent point! I never thought about character birthdays. I guess it only really matters if it has to do with the plot? As in, stuff always happens to Harry Potter on or around his birthday, so it’s a major date and event in each book. Whereas Ron and Hermione’s birthdays are irrelevant to the plot, so they’re rarely if ever mentioned.

    Now I need to figure out my characters’ birthdays … there goes my afternoon, lol.

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  14. I try to keep of the birthdays of all main characters. Because you never know when that one reader is going to stop and say, “Hay wait, wasn’t her birthday in November? So why is everyone saying she’s still twenty? Shouldn’t she be twenty-one by now?”

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  15. Ellespeth says:

    This usually doesn’t cross my mind. I’m currently writing something where the birthday/age plays an important part (a kid’s story) but I usually don’t write of it or think about it when I’m reading.
    Ellespeth

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  16. The majority of my characters do! I like the idea! Then the birthday can be one of the details you just know as writer or, if it fits, you can use it in the story! But at least you know that it’s something you decided in advance and not something you invented on the spot in order to move the story or so…

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  17. Wow…never even thought about this question…I guess I’d probably only write about a birthday if it helped the plot/was essential to it in some way – eg a birthday realisation that changed how someone lived their life, or as a celebratory scene to set action going (like Tolkein’s Bilbo birthday and so forth). What an interesting question…. 🙂

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  18. kman756 says:

    I’ve not given this a lot of thought, but now that I’m dwelling on it I do like the idea of bringing up a character’s birthday or their personal anniversaries. Not making a big deal about it, just showing some of the things they consider important or shedding a little light on their respective cultures/histories. I may delve into this a bit more.

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  19. It depends upon the culture, of course. Birthdays exist in my story, but they’re only mentioned if they’re relevant to what’s occurring. For instance, my protagonist is pulled into a conversation concerning her birthday at one point, a conversation that heightens the mystery and romance that’s developing around her. It’s important to remember that birthdays are about more than celebrations, they’re also markers, even days of reckoning for some.

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  20. Bastet says:

    Must say you do write the most stimulating questions! i should think that in a long many seried book a birthday could be interesting…heavens the Lord of the Rings begins with a birthday party!

    Like

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