Astrology as a tool to create characters

When I invent characters in a new novel I often turn to basic astrology to kick-start me on the construction of their personalities. I admit to not having an in-depth knowledge of the subject and I believe sun signs (and astrology in general) are only one influence among many on character but my own personality and those of the people I know best conform surprisingly well to the traits associated with our sun signs. I’m well aware too that astrology is much more complicated than just the sun’s position on the date of birth. The exact time and place of birth have to be taken into account; the position of the other planets and the way they interact with each other also has an effect. However, as a basis, purely as a point of departure for my imagination, I find it helpful. Then I can add in the other important elements: the influence of their upbringing and experiences; their genetic inheritance – as well as giving them particular quirks that make them more interesting. We are all – in fiction as in real life – complex beings. A protagonist who fitted into a simple formula would be flat, lifeless and boring.

Some readers of this post will, understandably, scoff at my attention to star signs – both those who know more about astrology and those who dismiss it as superstitious nonsense. All I’m saying is that it works for me. To take as examples the main female protagonists in my novels: 

In Secrets of the Pomegranate, the two sisters, Deborah and Alice, have very different character traits despite sharing genes and family background. Deborah is Sagittarius, an exuberant fire sign – adventurous, freedom-loving, restless, risk-taking, confident, passionate, scatty, irresponsible, sure of her opinions and at times dismissive of other people’s and with a thirst for knowledge. Alice is Taurus, an earth sign – home-loving, practical, cautious, responsible, reliable, warm-hearted, caring, placid, a good friend who loves to do things for others but can be stubborn with a tendency to self-righteousness.

In The Red Gene, my nurse, Rose is Pisces, an intuitive, emotional water sign – sensitive, compassionate, kind, selfless, sympathetic, idealistic, generous, open and capable of loving deeply. Consuelo is Virgo, an earth sign. Modest, kind, hardworking, conventional, a worrier, timid and lacking in confidence – though this is probably due more to her upbringing in a cold, adoptive family. Marisol is a fiery Leo – a natural leader, generous, warm-hearted, loving, with a sunny personality but a tendency to be bossy.

I don’t always use this astrological approach. I may already have a clear idea of a character’s personality – perhaps based on someone I know or a composite of different people I’ve come across in my life. Often the story I want to tell dictates the nature of the protagonist. And of course there’s something of me in all my characters, including the males. As their creator, it’s inevitable, whether or not I’m aware of it.

One could equally well use the Chinese horoscope or any other classification of personality types. It’s a blunt tool, no more. My knowledge of the Chinese horoscope is superficial to say the least but from what I’ve read, I can imagine Deborah might be a horse, Alice a dog, Rose a sheep or a pig, Marisol a tiger, Consuelo an ox. My grandmother Gretl could be a rabbit, her husband Heinrich a rooster.

In my current ‘work-in-progress’, I don’t need to imagine the personality of my protagonist as she’s based on a real person, my grandmother, whom I knew well, though only in her later life. She was, incidentally, a Cancer – a water sign like me. I never knew her husband – he died long before I was born – so I’m writing from what I’ve learnt of him from his wife and daughter (my mother). Without knowing his birth date, I imagine him as a fire sign, an Aries I would guess – a natural optimist always brimming with ideas and a tendency (often disastrous) to take risks. He’s ambitious and hardworking but spends easily, delighting in big gestures and spontaneous generosity. He can turn on the charm and his energy is attractive, making him popular wherever he goes. Living with him is another matter. He can be sulky when crossed, selfish and needy of attention.

Some readers of this post will, understandably, scoff at my attention to star signs – both those who know more about astrology and those who dismiss it as superstitious nonsense. All I’m saying is that it works for me. To take as examples the main female protagonists in my novels: In Secrets of the Pomegranate, the two sisters, Deborah and Alice, have very different character traits despite sharing genes and family background. Deborah is a Sagittarius, an exuberant fire sign – adventurous, freedom-loving, restless, risk-taking, confident, passionate, careless and scatty, sure of her opinions and at times dismissive of other people’s and with a thirst for knowledge. Alice is a Taurus, an earth sign – home-loving, practical, cautious, responsible, reliable, warm-hearted, caring, placid, a good friend who loves to do things for others but can be stubborn with a tendency to self-righteousness.

If nothing else, it’s fun!

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