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Character Astrology, Part 1
On using a character's birth chart as a writing constraint
In the fall, when I was feeling stuck, I decided to book an astrology reading for my narrator. I knew I was missing some essential piece of her. I wanted to stop writing around her, and to instead take a step back and map her out. I craved a key that would help guide the choices she makes on the page. (Yes, I am the one writing those choices, but — and this part is hard to explain — I feel like they already exist somewhere and I am just uncovering them.)
It is interesting to think about a character’s astrological signs as a formal constraint. I once took a class with the poet David Lehman and he compared poetic form — a sestina, a villanelle, a sonnet — to a bicycle: once you start pushing on the pedals, momentum builds and moves you along. The bicycle pushes you back.
And constraints or rules — only one indefinite article per page or only writing sentences that contain exactly ten words — can do the same thing. Paradoxically, constraints can free our brains from obvious answers or well-worn paths and help us to make more interesting connections.
Perhaps a character’s birth chart could serve as a constraint. When the character is at a crossroads, what is the action that best aligns with her stars? What would a Taurus rising do? And how does she feel about it?
I met with the extremely talented and intuitive Zoe Anderson. (Hi, Zoe!) We began with my narrator’s natal chart, or where the stars were in the sky at the exact moment she was born. Of course, this meant we needed to know her birth date, time, and place.
She already had a birth date — it’s a plot point in the novel — and a place, because she’s lived in the same place her whole life. I wasn’t sure where to begin with the time, until Zoe told me that she has another writer client who is writing a historical novel and gave his main character his own birth day, month, and time, but in a different century. We tried my own birth time, and the natal chart that was revealed felt exactly right.
My narrator was born on a full moon in Pisces, with her Sun, Mars, and Venus in Virgo — a direct opposition that perfectly captures the contradictions I have felt in her.
There is SO much to explore when looking at a character’s astrology, including the transits that are happening during different parts of the novel’s timeline. But just digging into the natal chart is so rich that I could listen to Zoe dissect it for days.
In Part 2, I’ll get into what some of this chart means for the narrator and how I might use it.