Many new and even experienced fiction writers find characterisation difficult. Astrology offers a unique and very easy method of creating effective, intriguing, and authentic multi-layered personalities that leap off the page. Astro-characters starts with a guide to creating vibrant, believable characters. The twelve zodiac archetypes then share their intimate secrets, letting the reader into the…
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Many new and even experienced fiction writers find characterisation difficult. Astrology offers a unique and very easy method of creating effective, intriguing, and authentic multi-layered personalities that leap off the page. Astro-characters starts with a guide to creating vibrant, believable characters. The twelve zodiac archetypes then share their intimate secrets, letting the reader into the quirks, flaws and foibles that are so fascinating to readers and essential for a writer. Simply decide whereabouts in the year a character was born, throw in a couple of curved balls, the moon and the rising sign mix them around a little and there you have it. A multi-layered, tailor-made protagonist to fit any plot with no astrological knowledge required. Astrocharacters tells you everything you need to know. Here’s an extract to get you hooked.
Who dun what? That is the question!
‘I only want a little bit of butter for my bread.’
When we were very young A.A. Milne
(Capricorn sun and moon 1882-1956)
This example of astro-characterisation in action is based on an idea suggested by an actual event, one which could become a Midsummer Murder plot or a murder mystery novel depending who in my writing group gets there first. Rumours and conspiracy theories abound as to what actually happened and, as writers will, we have speculated and expanded exponentially on the possible scenarios. It’s not so much a case of ‘Who Dun It?’ as ‘Was it done at all?’ I’m not suggesting for a moment that there is anything untoward in the original event, only using it to illustrate that everything that happens is fodder to the writer’s pen and can be played with, expanded upon and taken way beyond what was into a plot, especially if you use the astrology to develop characters that drive it forward and who have enough complexity to allow for several possibilities, or none at all, to be going on at once. The extract that follows the character sketches is from a first draft, drawn to give a sense of the characters and their interaction rather than a taut telling of the tale. The writing needs tightening and you have the opportunity to do that, rewriting it yourself based on the impression you gain of the characters.
Michael Cozens. Estate agent, community activist and general do-gooder. He recently contacted an old friend offering to hold her Power of Attorney (PoA) and take care of her financial affairs. But does he have a hidden agenda? He has two daughters who need to fund university educations and a son living in Central America who can’t afford to come home. Estate agencies are not doing well in the current economic recession. Has he bitten off more than he thought? His old friend, who is very demanding, loves men especially a charming one with wide, innocent eyes such as he has. He’s been called in at all hours of the day and night for the smallest of tasks.
The astrological personality:
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Mike has his sun in Pisces, the moon in Scorpio and Libra rising. His façade is charming and helpful, a people pleaser – on the surface. People say of him ‘what a nice man, you couldn’t find anyone better to help you’. His do-gooder sun in Pisces wants to be the rescuer, the saviour, but may have a guilty secret and will almost certainly have an escape route planned. But what about that secretive Scorpio moon? It’s much more intense, likely to have a hidden agenda, to look out for number one, to sting without reason. It revels in power, especially power over others to weak too care for themselves. It plots and bewitches its way to victory without giving anything away on the surface. What you see is definitely not what you get with this charmer. Will he be a victim or the perpetrator of a deception? It could go either way.
The name: Michael, the great protector archangel who watches over souls in need. He’s the patron saint of grocers and mariners. Pronounced ‘cousins’ with all that that implies, Cozens means to con or deceive.
Jill Cozens. A former nurse who now helps her husband run his estate agency and looks after all the lame ducks he takes on. Deeply involved with her family, she follows where he leads – most of the time. Jill willingly joins Mike in his get rich quick schemes but there comes a point where she stops to question, something he rarely does.
The astrological personality:
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Sun in Gemini, moon in Leo and Virgo rising. Virgo rising is finicky and hardworking, offering service or getting stuck in a role of servitude. This detail-orientated rising sign harmonises well with communicative Gemini, which never stops talking and switches viewpoint from moment to moment. Jill never uses one word where ten will do. Nothing will stay the same with this character for long and little that’s said will be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It will be an expedient truth but not a malicious one. But let’s think about that superior Leo moon for a moment. It’s very proud but also open hearted. It genuinely wants what’s best for someone else - until it has to play second fiddle or is found lacking in some way. Then there’s a major rethink.
The name: Jill means child of the gods. Jack and Jill went up the hill, Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after. Enough said?
Josephine Janine. Former next door neighbour of the Cozens. Now in her mid-eighties, Josephine has lived as an ex-pat all over the world and has a history of being taken in by men but she’s had an extremely good time along the way. She doesn’t rate women very highly. She’s had four husbands, numerous lovers and many pets, and has now been diagnosed with early dementia due to severe but intermittent short term memory loss. She has no living relatives. She still appears bright as a button and very sociable – from moment to moment. Her credo is ‘never turn down an invitation because you don’t know where it will lead.’ However, these days she often forgets not only the location but the invitation itself.
The astrological personality:
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With her sun in Libra, moon in Pisces and Sagittarius rising Josephine is game for anything but oh so open to duplicity and guile. She’s always looking for the next adventure (Sag), takes people at their face value especially on their looks (Libra/Pisces) and rarely thinks about their depths until she gets sucked down into them. She feels better when she’s part of a whole (Libra/Pisces). She drinks, smokes and engages in every kind of fantasy (Pisces). She’s been a playwright and a poet since she was a child. But she’s got a deep layer of guilt (that moon in Pisces). Her darkest secret is that she blames herself for the fact that she miscarried several times. She believes that she must have done something terribly wrong to be so punished. She would love to have been a mother. That at least two of the miscarriages were due to abuse by her husbands does not seem to her a valid reason, it must have been something she did. This could perhaps be traced back to her sailor father leaving when she was very young. On the one occasion she did spot him later, she called out to him but he ran away. Every since she has been seeking a handsome man to love and redeem her. Alas, what she found were loveable rogues and insincere deceivers.
The name: Josephine and Janine were exotic dancers, one hiding behind a fan, and dancing features hugely in Josephine’s backstory, which we’re not going into here (but you could have fun constructing it for yourself). In Hebrew Josephine means ‘God enlarges’ or ‘he multiplies’ and this is a larger than life character but the meaning of Janine ‘God is gracious’ also holds good. This is a very gracious lady.
An elderly lady, Josephine Janine, is approached by two ex neighbours with whom she had once been friendly. She hasn’t seen them since they moved away some years ago but they suddenly call in ‘to see how she is and if she needs help’ having heard rumours in the small town in which they all still live that she is failing to cope. She signs a Power of Attorney that gives them total control over her finances and her person, and a Will that appoints them her executors, and leaves her residuary estate to them. She is taken by them to a new solicitor to make this Will, someone who has no idea that she has senile dementia, nor that she was a prolific playwright in the past. One of her plays is in course of production and could yield a substantial sum of money. What the executors don’t know is that the elderly lady has made several draw-downs on her property and therefore has very little equity and minimal liquid assets. They do, however, know that she has a painting on a wooden panel that she was given for her 18th birthday when she lived in the South Seas in the 1940s and which is reputed to have been produced by the French artist Gaugain when he lived in the islands. If this can be authenticated it would be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. They obtain the painting under the ruse of having it valued and hide it in the garden of her home. Josephine forgets she has given it to them and tells everyone she has lost it.
We join the plot at the point where Josephine has returned home from a Galapagos cruise (she’d been there two years before but said it was a part of the world she hadn’t seen). The cruise had been booked by her PoAs who said that she had a bit too much money in the bank so might as well use some of it to enjoy herself. The PoAs told friends who enquired how an elderly lady with severe short term memory loss could possibly cope on such a long cruise ‘oh there are facilities.’ The cruise cost over £5000, which has set the friends wondering and questions are being asked about Josephine’s future care and her need for a nursing home, which will be costly. A producer has been found for a play that Josephine had been working on before the dementia set in but the PoAs have failed to communicate with him despite repeated attempts at contact and Josephine can no longer understand his calls. On her return from the cruise, Josephine is taken ill. The PoAs, who will become the executors, want to visit their son who lives in South America.
Extract from the first draft
‘Mike, I’m really worried about Josephine. Her colour is so poor and she can’t even walk to the commode with help. She’s been throwing up so much I think she must have norovirus. It’s doing the rounds especially on those cruise ships. We’d better get her to hospital.’ Jill brushes back the still-dark hair from the pale sweaty face in front of her. Josephine responds by throwing up yet again and Jill quickly wipes away the slime that’s all that’s left in the heaving stomach. She rolls her sleeve up with her finger tips, nose wrinkling at the smell. ‘Here, try to sip some water,’ she coaxes but Josephine shakes her head.
‘Gin,’ she demands. ‘That’ll get me better. And a fag.’
‘What are you like?’ sighs Jill. ‘Mike, we have to get her some proper care, she’s so dehydrated. Look at her, the poor thing can barely move, see how she’s trembling, and her skin - oops, there you go dear, managed to catch that bit. Let’s just wipe your face. Mike we must - ’
‘Nonsense, you were a nurse weren’t you. You can take care of her. She’ll only pick up some other bug in hospital and we don’t want her to have to go into a care home. You don’t want to go to hospital do you Josephine?’ He articulates the words carefully, as though speaking to a child.
‘Wh.. what? Hospital? Why? I’m not ill … am I?’
Jill has to bend her head close to Josephine’s mouth to make out the words, but doesn’t get too close, she’s wary of being vomited on again. Desperate to wash her sleeve, she dabs at it once more with the cloth. ‘Yes dear, you are, you’ve been throwing up all week. You haven’t moved off that sofa. You need to be in hospital.’
‘Where’s the dog?... Where’s my Mitzie?’
‘Don’t you remember dear, when you couldn’t walk her anymore you gave her to that nice family over Southampton way?’ Jill tries again to brush the sweaty hair away to the side. Josephine took such pride in her appearance, how can she have got like this?
‘I never did. I’d never give away my Mitzie.’ The sunken eyes roam round the room, staring at the empty lead hanging on the door. ‘I want Mitzie. She’s my friend. Like you Mike’. It’s a wail, although a quiet one.
‘I’m afraid you did Josephine. You should never have had another after Hero died. You knew you couldn’t rely on finding someone else to walk him. It was too much for me, I spend so much time doing things for other people. That takes up all my energy. I’ve no time for walks.’ Mike turns to leave. ‘Jill, you’re in charge. Is there anything you need?’
‘Some rehydrate might help, and chicken soup. There’s a pot in the fridge at home that you made a day or two ago, could you bring that?’
‘There’s some in Josephine’s fridge I bought it in that day for her, use that. I don’t think she’s touched it today.’
‘Well, she can’t stand so I doubt she went in there to get it. But I think I need the rehydrate, now.’
‘Yes, yes, I’ll need to call into the agency first, make sure the girls are on top of things. I’ll be back within the hour. Now you take care of yourself Josephine.’ As he pats her thin shoulder Josephine beams up at him adoringly.
‘Anything you say handsome. Don’t go, stay and look after me. She can sort out the girls - ’
‘That rehydrate’s urgent. Couldn’t you come straight – ‘
Too late, the front door has closed behind him. Jill hadn’t even noticed him getting his coat.
She makes her way to the kitchen at the back of the house. When she opens the fridge door she recoils in disgust. Sitting in solitary splendour is a half full bowl of scummy soup: greasy-topped, faintly green, but still soup. She recognises the bowl as one of her own. Surely this can’t be what Mike meant, this can’t be what he’s been feeding Josephine on? This hasn’t been here a day or two. It can’t have been. It’s too old, surely… And what about that campylobacter thingie, is that what Josephine’s suffering from? The man from the Foods Standard Agency said on the radio that two-thirds of chickens were infected. People have died from it. He said not to wash chicken because it spreads the bacteria but she always does, and pats it dry with a paper towel. What did Mike do, could the chicken have been infected, is that why the soup’s gone that phosphorescent green? We really do need to get her to hospital. What will people think? They won’t blame us, will they, she asks herself. Just in case she tips the soup down the sink, boils a kettle and washes out the bowl. To be completely sure she scrubs out the fridge as well, switches it off and leaves the door open for it to air. If only there was some antibacterial cleaner in the house.
Three hours later Jill is distracted from her book by a faint groan from the sofa.
‘What is it dear, what can I do for you?’
‘My picture, my birthday picture, where is it? Mike said he’d take it to London for me, get it authenticated, it was given to me for my birthday you know,’ her hand is groping beneath the stained cushions, ‘the man said it came from Gaugain, he painted it, it was my ticket out of there, not that I particularly wanted to leave, I loved those islands, and the purser on the inter-island steamer, he was gorgeous, I nearly married him you know and Bertie from Burns Philp, but –‘ she struggles to sit up but falls back exhausted.
‘Quietly Josephine, you’ll tire yourself. I’m sure it’s safe, don’t try to talk.’ What can she say? She knows Mike buried the picture in a box in the back garden while Josephine was off on her trip. She’d been worried that Josephine might wander off while in port - if she ever made it past the airport that is - but he’d laughed it off. She’s been travelling the world since she was four he’d said, no reason to stop now. At least it gave them a break from her constant phone calls, she’d never realised before just how needy Josephine was. They had time to be a couple again, when she wasn’t chasing after his other lame ducks or organising lifts for the girls. Thank god Josephine had given them her old car that had really helped. When she’d protested about the picture getting damaged Mike’d assured her it was well wrapped and safe.
‘No point in having it authenticated now,’ he’d said, ‘it’ll only add to the value of the estate. Best to find it later, after she’s gone. If anyone finds out they’ll think she hid it. As it stands now we can probate the Will ourselves and that’ll be a lot less hassle – and cheaper - than getting solicitors involved. We deserve it after all we’ve done for her.’
Jill had agreed at the time, after all they were the residuary beneficiaries as well as the executors of the new Will he’d persuaded Josephine to sign before she left for her trip. With luck there’d be enough for their girls to come out of uni with no debts, and a bit left over for a treat. That visit they’d promised themselves to Guatemala to see Corin, they could do that… once she’d gone. Even bring him back with them if he wanted to come home. But she’ll miss her. Miss those mischievious eyes and the cloud of smoke that announced her presence. Just as she’d missed the parties once they’d moved to the other side of town. She’d thought it would be good to get away as Josephine had always wanted to know what they were up to. But it left a hole. What fun they used to have, what stories she’d told of her travels. Why didn’t they keep up the friendship? What made - and why has Josephine remembered that Mike had the painting, she’d forgotten that when she last asked where it was. Told everyone she’d lost it. She glances warily at her old friend.
Josephine has gone very quiet, her face the colour of the putty round the ancient windows and her breath less than the draught that comes through the ill-fitting door. A shining snail’s trail of drool creeps down her chin. Jill shakes her gently, ‘Come on old thing, wake up.’ But there is only silence.
‘Yes, an ambulance please, immediately… How long?... No sooner than that? OK, I’ll try to keep her going, but please hurry.’ Jill turns back to Josephine forcing water between the tightly pursed lips that used to pucker with air-blown kisses and constant laughter. It dribbles out again, washing away the drool. ‘They’re coming, it won’t be long now. We’ll have you in hospital soon as look at you – ‘
‘What, did you phone for an ambulance? How are we going to explain this? What have you done? She’ll definitely need a nursing home now if she isn’t dead already. They’re bound to blame us.’
It’s Mike. He’s back.
‘Come on quickly, sit her up and make it look like it’s just happened. They won’t ask too many questions - ’
‘No buts, you’ve been alone with her all day, it’ll be your fault. You’d better have your story ready for when the police come calling.’
The extract is, as I said, from a first draft that fleshes out the characters and the way they interact. I’d cut it down drastically on the second edit but it gives me a sense that fastidious Gemini-Virgo Jill talks constantly, to herself if there’s no one else to listen, and that she notices every little detail. That she’s torn between her desire to please her husband and a need to look after her old friend and, in the end, does the right thing as she sees it (Leo moon). That Josephine has memory loss, yes, but she still loves the attention of a charming man (Pisces-Libra). And the man himself? Do you get a sense of Piscean slipperiness, can you pin him down? Did he or did he not take advantage of a vulnerable old lady (Scorpio) or was he being sincere and doing what he thought best for her (Libra)?
Rewrite the story yourself and create your own ending using the astrological characteristics and what you’ve already learned from the protagonists to drive the story forward.
Extracted from Astrocharacters: A writers guide to creating compelling fictional characters with the signs of zodiac (Compass Books)
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