Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Astrology of Character

As with numerology, astrology gives you lots of information to play with when you’re developing character. If you already have chosen your number, the next step is to select a sign that you think fits the character. I once worked with a character that was born in 1866 which adds up to a 21. She was very blond and blue-eyed, which fits well with Leo. But she wasn’t someone who wanted center stage, in fact she avoided center stage, so I made her a cancer, which meant I added 7 to 21 and came up with 10. I had already decided to make the character a number five because I felt giving her a passionate need for change would create drama in her life – most of it was spent in a prison hospital on a small island where no change was possible. That meant she had to be born on the fourth of July in 1866.
The date of birth is the Sun Sign, but the sun is only the face you present to the world, there are 11 other planets at play in everyone’s horoscope plus your rising sign. Your rising sign connotes how you do things.
There was a conversation that Harry Potter, who was born on July 31, 1980, had with his generally incompetent Divination Teacher, Sybil Trelawny. In typical Trelawny fashion, she guessed that he had a significant Saturn in his birth sign and therefore must be a Capricorn, when in fact he is a Leo – the sign of the Sun. The conversation could have gone further and could have proven her right, because it doesn’t matter that his sun sign is Leo if his rising sign is Capricorn, or if, for example many of his other planets are in Capricorn. That is undoubtedly too much of a discussion for a children’s book, but not too much of a discussion for someone seeking behavior patterns for character development – or a topic of conversation for a term paper.
Not only do you have Western Astrology to play with but you also have Chinese Astrology to add to your mix. In Chinese Astrology, Harry Potter is a monkey – a prankster slightly tempered by his year of birth. Metal Monkeys (1980) are more loyal and settled than other kinds of monkeys. Had I been playing with this fiction I probably would have figured out a way to make him a Dragon…. Which is a much better fit for the story and I would have made Fred and George Weasly the monkeys.
Within both kinds of horoscopes are the compatibility signs. Rabbits don’t get along with Roosters but love Boars. Taurus isn’t always happy with Aquarius but does extremely well with Virgo and Capricorn. So once you have your main character’s signs you can use the signs and symbols to create adversaries, friends and lovers. And you can happily mix and match depending on how you want those adversaries, friends and lovers to play out. If, for example, you want friction in your love match then you would mix signs that don’t get along. If you want to add a wrinkle to your adversaries you would put them in signs for which there are definite attractions for the hero. That adds a psychological conflict to the rest of the conflicts.
Now, you may be looking at all this writing tool negatively, as something that takes a lot of time, and I will repeat this endlessly – for some people spending hours, days and months developing characters is important. For other writers, characters come through like visions, or character isn’t as dominant in their writing as plot. For some people it’s a great way to get beyond writer’s block. For others it isn’t. For still others, it’s against their religion. So here’s my advice. If it’s not important to you, or you don’t consider it fun, don’t do it. If you find it fun and interesting and helpful, do it. Nothing is written in stone when it comes to writing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Numerology of Character

In great literature characters have numbers in much the same way that real people have numbers. So I often start with numerology when I begin to think about writing a character. The character’s numbers will lead me toward his or her behavior patterns, attitudes, stress points and even conflicts with other characters.
Although he isn’t an eight – Ebenezer Scrooge – works the issues of the number eight which are power and money. His transformation takes place in the realms of power and money. Interestingly, the number of Scrooge (one - creative) and the number of “A Christmas Carol” (seven - spiritual) combine to make the number eight, which makes sense. The entire story is about eight issues.
Harry Potter’s birth numbers, on the other hand, combine to form a four, the number of work. And from the beginning of the series Harry has a job to do. Fours often have difficulty delegating their responsibilities. Harry’s friends tell him constantly that he doesn’t have to do everything himself. His name number is an eleven – a master number. An eleven is someone who takes on goals and challenges bigger than themselves – goals so big and challenging that they might even intimidate. Eleven adds up to two – the number of partnership – and Harry always partners with Dumbledore, Hermione and Ron.
In my soon to be released novel, Tranquility Initiative, the main character Cassandra Williams – a doctor from the CDC sent to investigate an outbreak of pulmonary anthrax in New York City is number 7. Spiritual but also intellectual, focused, scientific – a seeker of truth, an accumulator of knowledge, self-oriented, a perfectionist and a woman of great mental strength. That allows her to be incredibly effective despite the fact that she is movie star gorgeous.
Using numbers to explore the traits of characters you are inventing, or using numbers to explore characters developed by others, is great fun and can lead you into areas of understanding that would have eluded you without the numbers acting as a guide to consistency. They can help you make choices for the character or solving problems for the characters that would otherwise get in their way.