Confession: I’ve been into astrology since I was a teenager.
I think it started in high school when a friend of mine (Jessica was her name, I think) told me one day while we were struggling to hear each other over a crowded lunchroom table that she could plot my entire birth chart for me.
If I paid her twenty dollars, that is (capitalism man … we learned to be hustlers at a very early age).
Needless to say, I forked over the cash.
Jessica presented me nearly a week later with a very neat, stapled package of papers featuring an intricate drawing on the front. I was pleased.
I’d always been interested in “that kind of stuff.” Occult-y things, religious things (all kinds), and New Age (not woo woo) things as well as sex and death (thanks, no doubt, to the Scorpio in my chart) … all more from an intellectual perspective rather than a practical one. By the time I graduated, I had a massive bookshelf with an impressive (if I do say so myself) collection of books on a wide range of spiritual topics. This was much to the chagrin of my violently Christian grandmother who only wanted to see Bibles (and more Bibles) on my bookshelf. I think she actually wailed (and gnashed teeth) when she saw I had a book on witchcraft.
And let’s not even talk about the time she discovered my box of dildos.
To be fair, I did have several, well-read Bibles in the middle of all that.
Jessica did a great job with the chart, but true to my nature, I was much more interested in the book she learned all this from. She told me and I went straight to Barnes and Noble (remember those?) after school to get my very own copy. It was aptly titled “The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need” and indeed, I haven’t purchased another once since. I’ve referred to this book regularly over the past two decades and now I’m afraid it’s a little worse for wear.
I was super interested mostly in how the signs interacted and I started looking up all my friends and family and, in particular, my boyfriends (yes, boyfriends plural) to try and figure out why I behaved in certain ways with certain people, why I got along with some and why I couldn’t seem to find common ground with others despite being the skilled communicator and diplomat that I am. And before you start typing all fast, no, I don’t really believe that where the planets and stars aligned at the very second of your birth is the sole determining factor of your personality. But I do believe that it plays a role if that makes sense. Listen, at this point in my life I can pretty much guess someone’s sign (or at least their element) with startling accuracy after talking with them only briefly.
Anyway, since astrology became integral to my study of personality in general, it only made sense that I used it as a tool in my writing as well, specifically when it comes to character development.
I don’t need to tell you how important character development is. Character drives plot. Period. All of my work has started with the idea for a character, way before I even nail down the workings of the actual story. When I’m pre-writing, I often spend weeks just fleshing out my characters because it’s so important for me to get this right. You can have a compelling story, but it won’t mean much if the characters aren’t relatable.
I have a bunch of fun exercises for this but one of my fave is to do an astrological chart. Not the entire thing, mind you. But I at least have to know my character’s Sun sign, Moon sign, Ascendant sign, and where Mercury and Venus are placed in their charts.
And if all that sounds like gibberish to you, read on. I’ll explain.
I don’t start with a chart and build a character around it, however, and that’s important to note. I start brainstorming the character first. I get a sense of their overall personality and then based on that I determine which of the elements — fire, air, earth, or water — suits them best. Then I narrow it down further and give them a sign within that element. I wish I could tell you that’s there’s a scientific process I use for this, but the truth is most times, it simply comes down to “I just feel like he’s a Leo.”
Once my character has a Sun sign, I give them an actual birth date and time. And from the actual birth date, place, and time, I can calculate everything else. Usually, my charts are on point and correspond well with how I’ve already envisioned my character’s personality. But if something comes up in a chart that I really feel doesn’t compliment my character (or when I develop them more and get a better idea of them), I might change their birthday.
Take Miguel from Red Herring for instance. I originally made him a Capricorn because he’s a businessman and a bit of a hustler. He also prizes family and is quite security-conscious (like most Earth signs). But then as I developed his character more, I realized that his crucial character trait is that people like him. He’s the consummate diplomat, always including everyone, always smoothing everything over. He’s the person that you simply find easy to talk to. So with that in mind, I made him a Libra instead (sidenote: Libra’s are consistently some of my favorite people on Earth … seriously, it’s rare that I meet a Libra — male or female — that I don’t instantly adore).
Now let’s go a little deeper into these elements.
Earth – Earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn) are attuned to reality and rely on what they can see, hear, etc. with their senses. They’re stable, practical, calm, and patient. They prefer to not rock the boat, and they are often stubborn. They’re also super pragmatic but sensuous.
Water – Water is the element of emotions, and thus water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) tend to be changeable, emotional, sensitive, compassionate, and caring. They have high feelings, they’re very intuitive, and can be easily overwhelmed.
Air – Air is the element of communication and the mind. Air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) are often intellectual, social, open, talkative, reasonable, and open-minded. They require constant mental stimulation but also can be aloof and detached at times.
Fire (that’s me!) – Fire is the element of imagination. So Fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) are active and high energy. They can’t sit around. They’re enthusiastic, positive, impulsive, and not afraid of taking risks.
Once I’ve determined a general element for a character, I give them a specific sign that corresponds to that element. I won’t go into all the aspects of all the Sun signs here because, well, there are countless books already written on the subject and there certainly isn’t anything valuable I can add to that discussion. So I’ll just leave you with this handy image for quick reference.
The next step is to give the character a specific birth date, place, and time. Why? Because I’ll need these to calculate other important chart influences. I don’t map out their entire chart with all the planets. But aside from the character’s sun sign, I like to know their moon sign, ascendant sign, and where Mercury and Venus are placed in their chart. There are plenty of handy charts online you can use to find out these placements. Just plug in your birth date, place, and time and you’ll get the info instantly.
The Moon – The moon is like the other side of your personality. Think of your moon sign as hidden influences, things that lie just beneath the surface. It’s how you think and feel subconsciously. What sign the moon was in at the time you were born can also influence how strongly your Sun sign is expressed. The sun and the moon are two sides of the same coin. The sun shines brightest in the day and similarly, your sun sign is the side of you that you readily show to others. The moon shines at night and so it rules that which is hidden, in the dark, subconscious, and below the surface.
The Ascendant sign – is defined by the sign that was rising on the eastern horizon at the exact time and location of your birth. “The Ascendant (or rising sign) is often considered the mask one wears when meeting others. Perhaps it is most aptly thought of as the automatic responses to one’s environment. The Ascendant shows our natural defenses and how we cope with day-to-day issues. The energies of the sign and condition of the Ascendant are most overt and obvious to others. The Ascendant shows an individual’s first, natural reaction to new people and situations.” (https://cafeastrology.com/risingsignsascendant.html)
Mercury – is the planet that rules communication. your Mercury placement tells a lot about how you interact with others. “What style of communication do we use? How do we make decisions? How do we pick up, process, absorb, and exchange information? These questions are answered, in part, by Mercury’s placement by sign of the zodiac.” (https://cafeastrology.com/articles/mercuryinsigns.html)
Venus – is the planet of love. Your Venus placement dictates how you behave in relationships and romantic settings or what it’s like to be in a relationship with you.
So how do I use all this information?
Well, as I said, it really gives me a thorough picture of my character. I know clearly what he would say and what he would say, would do, or wouldn’t do. I know what he struggles with internally and what aspects of his personality are going to cause trouble for him. I know what drives him, what ails him. And because of all this, I know exactly how to get him into trouble!