Using Astrology as a Character Generator


Around We Go

While developing my sleuth Charlotte’s romantic life, I noticed that she had a history of getting together with men who were not truly suitable for her. There was, somewhere in her makeup, a conflict between her outer life and her inner self, or perhaps a fear of being true to herself, since she chose relationships that she thought she ought to have instead of what she really wanted. Facing this fact and going for what she really wanted was the main subplot of An Unexamined Wife.

So I asked myself, what are Charlotte’s strongest characteristics? Maternal and domestic, for certain. Easily hurt and remembers hurt a long time. Tenaciously loyal, even when it is detrimental. Loves creature comforts. These traits are the hallmark of the astrological sign of Cancer.

I know just enough about astrology to know that a person’s Moon and Ascendant signs add depth and complexity to the Sun sign. So as I read various online astrological descriptions of Cancer, I also tried to match up what Charlotte appears like to others and the way her brain and/or creativity works with corresponding Ascendant and Moon signs. From there I read about compatibility, which signs were better bets in a relationship than others and why.

Talk about useful! Any given combination of sun, rising, and moon signs can create a personality profile with considerable depth–at least for fiction. It doesn’t matter if you believe in astrology or not, because the entire system is based on types. And the system also allows for negative traits, which even our heroes need to have. From an astrological profile, I can draw a character’s basic traits, how she appears to the others in the world of the novel, what her secret desires are, what her deepest fears are, what profession she is likely to prefer, what kind of house or hobby or climate or vacation she’d like, as well. Things like impulsiveness and cautiousness are accounted for, as well as propensity for or aversion to violence. That’s just from the combination of three basic signs in an astrological birth chart, which is more than enough to get started on developing a character.

Such character profiles are recommended by many writer guides and software, for which they provide templates that ask stock questions about each character to create a profile. But sometimes one’s imagination just doesn’t want to kick in and come up with good, interesting answers to those profile questions–I find myself leaving a lot of those questions unanswered far too often. By breaking away from any limits of imagination (especially when trying to come up with believable characters) and assigning characteristics suggested by a generator such as an astrological chart, you increase the likelihood that your characters have real variety both in style and motivation.

The advantage of the astrological method over other kinds of generators is the integrated interpretation of the different combination of signs–the interpretations suggest why a character might behave a certain way. A Cancerian with an Aquarius moon will be different than one with a Leo moon, for instance–the latter will prefer to organize a party, while the former will prefer to sit in a corner and observe the goings-on. A Cancerian with a Leo Ascendant will likely be more charismatic than one with a Pisces Ascendant, or at least have a much different manner and sense of style. Many online astrological sites give pretty thorough descriptions of these various combinations, and some sites are more fanciful than others. It is possible to read through these interpretations and come up with back stories and secrets galore.There’s something for just about every style of writer and every kind of character.

Let’s take the example of a main character who is a Cancer. Most astrologers suggest that other Water signs are a good bet for compatibility–Pisces and Scorpio. Water signs are also generally comfortable with Earth signs, so Virgo, Capricorn, and Taurus should be good choices. But there are warning bells in most descriptions. A “poorly-aspected” Virgo, for instance, is prudish and hyper-critical, and a typical Cancerian would find it devastating to be on the receiving end of such repression and criticism. So even within the general signs there are degrees of good and bad traits. A Virgo with positive aspects would share the typical Cancerian’s love of nesting, good food, and attention to detail. A Cancerian with strong negative traits would be fearful, reclusive and spiky, even jealous and spiteful. Charlotte’s panic attacks and deep hurt from Jack’s infidelities pop up every so often, especially when she’s under duress. Facing this tendency in herself enables her to recognize what would make her feel secure and loved, and she stops trying to be happy in a relationship that doesn’t provide those things.

Astrological readings would be most immediately useful for developing an individual character, and for their romantic life. But there are also interpretations for every sign’s working and professional life, and for their health and families, which are useful for pointing up possible weak spots, areas which might well be vulnerable to accident or crime. Need motivation for a character’s unusual choice or course of action? Read astrological profiles, even if you haven’t settled on a character’s Sun sign. But be warned–it’s easy to get lost in reading the interpretations for your own signs, and there goes your writing time!

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