Three Steps to Complex Characters (Part III)

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You can tell a lot about a person from the obvious pieces we’ve discussed in the last two posts: their features and their name. Even without knowing energy types we could probably identify apple cheeks as fun, puppy-dog eyes as sensitive, sharp chins as determined, and long faces as serious. Similarly, we make natural judgments about a name that are often true.

(One beta reader commented, after learning my artsy character Phil is short for Theophilus, “I was a little surprised that he goes by Phil as opposed to Theo. Theo sounds artistic, but Phil sounds kind of carefree/humorous which also seems to fit him.” Later, when she learned Wendy had been the one who insisted on calling him Phil, the reader said it made perfect sense.)

Today we get to dive deeper—into the invisible influence of astrology.

Character Sun Sign

My interest in astrology began after learning energy types and then trying to make sense of people whose faces and names didn’t seem to make sense. Some people defied analysis.

What do you make of someone, for example, who is a double introvert—type 2/4—and yet has natural social skills and is described as fun? Or someone who’s a double extrovert—type 3/1—but with a serious/studious side?

It just so happens that the 2/4s I know are both Leos (a fun/extroverted Zodiac type), and the 3/1s are a Scorpio and a Virgo (both serious/introverted types). Puzzle solved.

All this to say that what I’m about to show you is an essential piece to understanding who your characters are.

I created the above-pictured PDF when I taught novel writing last fall. I wanted to distill the complexities of astrology into a simple-to-access formula for studying character. Now that I’ve used it on more than twenty of my own characters, I can tell you it works wonders.

To walk you through the instructions a bit, here’s a basic explanation of concepts on page one:

  • Astrology involves twelve Zodiac types each assigned to a month-long reign when the sun is “in” that constellation from our perspective on Earth. These signs bestow certain personality qualities on recipients born during that time period.
  • The Zodiac signs rotate through three qualities—cardinal (go-getter), fixed (reliable), or mutable (flexible)—and four elements: fire (passionate extrovert), earth (practical introvert), air (thoughtful extrovert), and water (intuitive introvert). This creates twelve possible combinations, so all you have to do is decide on your character’s quality and element to find the matching sign.

The second page is where things get more complex but also super fun. As with energy types, if you stopped after the dominant factor from page one, you’d end up with a flat character. But no worries, because with astrology there are lots of factors. The sun determines the dominant aspect of your personality, but the planets moving through the constellations also influence how you think, how you feel, how you interact, and a lot more.

Planets

The catch is that to unlock these aspects you have to know your character’s exact birthday, which is what the second half of the instructions will help you find. Thanks to the characteristics of the numbers 1–9 that we learned in the last post, we can choose a life path for each character—the direction that brings him or her the most fulfillment/purpose—and thereby narrow the potential birth dates down to only three or four.

WendyWhen I did this with Wendy and Peter, I was amazed. Wendy is a 4/1 energy type, but felt more extroverted, so Sagittarius (enthusiastic and optimistic explorer) made perfect sense. But then why was she so motherly toward her guy friends? Ohhhh! She could have a #6 life path (nurturing, care-taking, serving, realistic, loyal).

See the complex layers here? Isn’t it cool? And it gets better.

To get a birth date from there, I needed a year. My story had been floating, trying to be “any time roughly approximating now,” so forcing myself to give her a birth date also forced me to ground the story. I thought of cultural changes over the past few years, picked a year that felt right for their road trip, and calculated back 17 years. There were only three possible dates, and when I examined each (as the document will tell you how to do), 3:44 a.m. on December 6th, 1995, was the perfect birth date for her.

Check it out:

  • Rising sign: Librashe comes across as very attractive and popular, her charm prevents others from getting angry at her, but she has a tendency to compromise herself by being too agreeable
  • Sun sign: Sagittariusfun-loving, spirited, energetic, optimistic, never tires of change, adventurous
  • Moon: Geminigood judgment, intellect controls her emotions, attracted to traveling
  • Mercury: Sagittariusher mind is very curious and inquisitive, and she’s known for being honest and blunt
  • Venus: Capricornvery dedicated in love and will stand the test of time, but she tends to keep her feelings under control and only express them in serious or important situations
  • Mars: Capricornher drive toward achieving goals is very disciplined
  • Jupiter: Sagittariuszealous, strong sense of ethics and morality, annoying tendency to be self-righteous and preachy
  • Saturn: Piscesneeds to learn to take responsibility and stop having unrealistic expectations about guide figures and remember they are human

Remember, at this point I was six drafts into the novel. I had already written these details into the story without knowing her birth chart before. That’s what’s super wild about this whole process. I’ve found that there is a “right match” on these birth dates, and that you find it intuitively.

PeterTo give one more example, when I did Peter next, he felt like a 1/3 energy with a cusp birthday: a Cancer right on the verge of being a Leo. And he is absolutely a #3 life path (creative, entertaining, optimistic, vivacious). Now that I had a birth year for Wendy, I plugged 1995 in for Peter too (since they’re the same age), but I couldn’t understand why none of the options fit him at all. They just felt off.

Epiphany: If they’re in the same grade level, they would’ve had birthdays starting September 1st, 1995, and going through August 31st, 1996. As a Cancer–Leo cusp, Peter was born in July. Of 1996.

Once I adjusted the year, his astrology profile became just as perfect as hers:

  • Rising sign: Cancerfriendships are made for life, mother is very important, comes across very gentle when self-confident and moody/withdrawn when insecure
  • Sun sign: Cancerintuitive understanding of the “vibes” around him, sneaky and clever, leaves you wondering about his motives
  • Moon: Leowill never do anything to make himself look bad, enjoys attracting attention to himself, self-emphasized and self-exaggerated, tendency toward vanity
  • Mercury: Leoquite convinced his own ideas are correct and enjoys persuading others they are; talented at organizing, directing and planning; loves being asked for his advice
  • Venus: Geminifriendly, warm, open and tolerant toward others; witty and humorous; quite popular; innate charm and vivacity
  • Mars: Geminienergies turned on quickly when anything interests him, loves to debate and argue in spirit of friendly disagreement, has to be in constant physical motion
  • Jupiter: Capricornbelieves the only results that are worthwhile are concrete and demonstrable, considers it a personal weakness to be wrong about anything
  • Saturn: Ariesaloof, independent and standoffish in order to govern life by his own standards; withdraws into a shell when around others who are overly critical

As I said, I already knew all this about their characters, so it was magical to see it laid out systematically.

When it came time to develop characters for a brand new novel, part of me worried that it wouldn’t work the same way, but it did. After creating faces and energy types for my new main characters, and then giving them first names and middle names and last names, I discovered that this final step of astrology and birth dates worked just as magically. They feel instantly real, and the insights have given me fantastic ideas on where their story needs to take them.

BirthdaysI also find that these exhaustive personality descriptions help so much when I get stuck. The past couple days I’ve been rounding out Wendy’s parents in my Peter Pan novel, giving them more quirks so they aren’t as flat, and to do that I’ve combed through their name meanings and their birth charts all over again. (Another great reference I should mention is the book The Power of Birthdays, Stars & Numbers.) The descriptions have provided amazing insights, and I’ve been able to nail down more about their occupations, hobbies, pet peeves, etc, as well as outline a full back story of their marriage and family life. No problem.

So give it a try! Even if you’ve never understood a thing about the Zodiac before, I promise these instructions are straight-forward enough to guide you through.

Hope you’ve loved the series, and let me know how it goes!

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2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Three Steps to Complex Characters (Part II) | All About the Words

  2. Pingback: Three Steps to Complex Characters (Part I) | All About the Words

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