It's in the stars ...

Do you read horoscopes? When I was at school I remember someone had a well-thumbed copy of Russel Grant's 'Love Stars' - we spent hours poring through it, seeing how compatible we all were with the boys we fancied. These days I read the stars each week in the Times, but when I was thinking about this post, I had to laugh when I read Leo's prediction for 2009 this morning: 'Get real. Stay real. Then get ready for one of your best years ever.' Um, no. To put a positive spin on it, this year has been 'challenging' shall we say. In the UK Jonathan Cainer's predictions are entertaining and thought provoking, but do you think horoscopes can tell you anything about a person, let alone what the future holds?

If you take a look at Cainer's site you can see how your zodiac sign should define you. For me, Leo's have 'a head full of application and dedication plus a heart full of loyalty and generosity'. Or if you prefer Chinese astrology, you can check your sign here. Apparently I'm one of those honorable generous Pigs (no jokes please) who have 'hearts of gold and love their family'. So who are you, according to your horoscopes?

I read the other day about a writer who uses the Enneagram system to build her characters, and decided to buy one of the Institute's books to give it a try. The premise is that there are nine basic personality types. When I took the test I came out as a 3 (The Achiever: Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type:Adaptable, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious), which really surprised a friend who works with the Enneagram professionally advising corporations. (It could have been the 'image-conscious' part - I'd just walked the hound and was covered in mud ...) The interesting thing about the Enneagram is it allows for outward factors - so for example, under stress a 3 can act more like a 9 (The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type:Receptive, Reassuring Agreeable, and Complacent). If you're developing your characters at the moment, why not take a look at their site - it's certainly a good way to build emotionally complex individuals.

TODAY'S PROMPT: If you're currently battling with developing resonant characters (as I am), why not check out their horoscopes, or Enneagram personality - it may just give you what's missing? JK Rowling (another Leo), famously gave Harry Potter her own zodiac sign - if it worked for her who are we to argue? For those of you who prefer something more practical in terms of character development, have you thought about making a one-page questionnaire for each of your characters? I do this for every character, no matter how minor they are, and find it really helpful especially in the early days of writing a novel when you're still getting to know them. It's probably best if you come up with your own questions, but to get you started here are some of the questions I 'ask' my characters:
  • Name
  • Nickname
  • Age
  • Belief set in the beginning
  • Belief set at the end
  • Extraordinary skills
  • How are they related to the hero/ine
  • Character deficiency
  • Favourite thing
  • What do they like to do best
  • Dislikes
  • Physical attributes
  • Mode of speech
  • Hopes and dreams
  • What makes them laugh
  • What makes them cry

... and so on. Once you've come up with your own questionnaire you can save it as a template and use it again and again. So today, why not get to know your characters a little better and see what's in their stars?


  1. I think many of the media astrologers can be dismissed; but I do believe that your date of birth has some influence on your character.

  2. I eschew the Daily Horrorscope and have ever since I discovered that since the Babylonians dreamed up this "stuff", the wobble on the Earth's axis has put all of this "stuff" out by a month or two.

    Thank You for the excellent questionnaire..I will defintiely go back and fill them out in the hope that it might flesh out my characters...
    who seem quite content lurking in my puter.
    I can't believe how many notes I keep adding to their files.

  3. Welcome Villager - yes, it has always been tempting to get an accurate horoscope drawn up.

    Hello Donn - good to see you! Yes, it's funny how characters like to 'talk' about themselves - ask them a few questions and away they go ...

  4. This is terrific advice and I am definitely going to try your questionnaire. I'd gone as far as giving the characters starsigns, but I'm also keen to try the Enneagram system: my main character's love interest is definitely a tragic romantic (and I want to slap him every time I write a word he says)

  5. Hello Mrs Trefusis - good, I'm glad it's helpful! Wanting to slap your characters is an excellent sign :)

    A couple of people have said they're finding it impossible to comment (good old Blogger). This from Misssy via Fbook:

    "Still can't comment- pah - so will do so here. I thought that questionnaire was an great idea. Try also questions from The Guardian Weekend one. Would do it tonight for my NaNo charcaters but desperately behind on word count.

    and from John via email:

    Anyway, what I wanted to mention in a comment on the above post -- do you know of something called the Proust Questionnaire? There's a bit about it on Wikipedia:
    By the time you've had all your main characters answer those questions, you will KNOW them!


    Yes, the Proust questionnaire is excellent (indeed it is a good thing to do yourself every few years - amazing how the answers change). Good idea to apply it to characters!

  6. Right - have changed comment form to a pop-up rather than embedded. Hope that works and apologies to all who have been trying to comment but couldn't :) x

  7. Kate -- comment form looks like heaven to me. (I'm easily pleased. :)

    What a relief; now I can at least let you know I'm reading you!

  8. for me, defining childhood moments (best/worst) often help when understanding characters . . .

  9. Don't most people stop reading horoscopes when they get married? Before that it is always reading them more or less to find out 'will I pull this weekend and will he be the love of my life or just a one night stand that I will do my best to forget' type stuff - my bible when I was a teen was Just Seventeen, then later when I was seventeen it became Marie Claire.

  10. Nil desperandum Kate - the year is not over yet.
    BTW Rita was not always so gorgeous; her hair grew very low on her forehead ad she had to have it removed.

  11. Hi John - good stuff!

    Megan - good point, it's great to know your characters this well (whether or not you tell your reader :)

    Emma - used to love J17! And yes these days horoscopes have limited appeal now not hoping for a fiery Aries or a sizzling Scorpio :)

    Thank you Pat, yes there's over a month for a late miracle to happen (*goes to study Rita for signs of depilation ...*)

  12. I was going to mention the Proust questions, but someone got there first. I try to do these forms with characters, but then want to quit and go write the story instead.

    Now that I'm married I still read my horoscope--but only to see if it tells me I will be discovered today. Ha. And I confess to getting Robert Brezny's weekly horoscope. I don't know if they are accurate, but I like them a lot. I've also been sad that Vanity Fair has stopped publishing a monthly horoscope.

    Maybe it is all nonsense, but I don't see the harm if, like everything else in life, you keep it in perspective.


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