(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· “What’s your sign?” ·
“What’s my sign?”
“Yeah, what’s your astrological sign?”
“Oh, I’m a Libra.”
“Libras have a strong sense of justice and fair play.”
“Yes, social justice is important to me.”
When I was gradually imagining characters for my novel, Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self-Discovery, I studied the astrological signs in order to get ideas on how I wanted my fictional characters to be different from one another.
I already had most of the characters plotted into the story. I knew overall what they would do, but I hadn’t determined the character of all my characters. I didn’t know what traits I wanted to give them.
At this early organizational stage in my novel there was nothing better than examining a condensed version of character traits by reading about astrological signs. It helped me to look at individuals and their potential to grow and develop.
I’ll write a future blog on writing what you know and writing what you want to know, but for now let me tell you that I knew one of my main characters would be a cop. After a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, I figured I wouldn’t need to do a lot of research on Officer Tom Jennings.
When I read through a description of the zodiac signs in an ancient book titled The Astrologer’s Handbook by Frances Sakoian and Louis S. Acker (1973), I learned that key traits for Leos were vitality, authority, and power. I already knew that Tom was going to be an obese police officer. These descriptors would compliment his imposing size while in uniform. This guy would fill a stage and a police car.
The authors also talked about Leos having reckless courage but always fighting fairly. Again, this was the Jennings I wanted to develop.
In my novel there’s a character named James Odessa-Smith who has a mental illness designated as schizoaffective disorder. I knew I wanted him to be multidimensional. I didn’t just want him “to be” mental illness. He became my Gemini who had traits of being non-conformist, moody, smart, sociable, and witty.
Suanna Morningcloud, twelve-years-old, half Nez Perce Indian, half white, and a person with albinism, became my Pisces because I saw her as sensitive and living in a dream world. When I tried to imagine what it would be like to have albinism, I stereotyped my way to her being passive because, in her world, she felt so different.
Although I ended up using all twelve signs of the zodiac to help differentiate my characters, it was only an early tool I used to brainstorm possibilities. No where in the book do I refer to any character’s astrological sign.
I emphasize that my astrological study was like examining a menu of character traits. I might read the whole description of one zodiac sign and only latch on to one strong feeling that represented one of my people. Also, as with any fictional writing, you can begin thinking you know what’s going to happen and then surprise yourself.
People are interesting because even though they have core beliefs or traits, they’re unpredictable. I feel the same way about fictional characters.
You’re never really sure what they’re going to do next, especially when they’re dropped into a stressful setting. That’s the fun of writing fiction.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.