Stephen King wrote more than horror stories. He was a high-school English teacher in his prime and later wrote more than a few books on writing: Danse Macabre; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; and Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing. Somebody who is a constant million-seller must be doing something right. Right?
I think the most important lesson I garnered from reading these three books was this:
Develop your characters first.
That’s not pick a name, age and circumstance, that’s develop your characters. One at a time.
I know horror is not everyone’s cuppa, but please bear with me.
I was always amazed reading Stephen King’s books because his characters became instant “family.” How could he possibly have known that one guy who lived around the corner from me when I lived on Peter Street in Renfrew, Ontario—the Ottawa Valley, Booniesville—back in the 1950s? Stephen King lived in Maine! The United States. Impossible?
People are inherently similar way down deep inside behind the skin and the cultural and religious programming. And I think I’ve discovered how to get in there with my own characters.
Oh. What does Stephen King do after he has his characters developed? He creates a “situation” in their community and then drops everybody in. And all Hell breaks loose. Literally sometimes.
Tricks for Developing Characters
In my non-fiction book, How to Write a Book: Park It, Get to Work (originally published as Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them), I mention the recommended benefits of asking your character questions. Here are some random links:
Each of these links holds valuable information for any writer.
Now here’s another trick I use: I do an Astrology Chart for my main characters and often choose at least a Sun Sign for minor characters. Why? Because I know how. Back in the 1960s, when New Age thinking became all the rage, my sister and I studied Astrology with a passion. And we got really good at it.
I’m not talking about, “Oh, he’s a Virgo so he’s really picky about stuff.” I’m talking about the placements of aaaallll the Planets in aaaallll the Houses of the Chart.
Wait. Wait. Don’t run away screaming just yet.
An author doesn’t have to believe in any of this. Nor does an author have to spend hours and days and weeks and months and years on end studying Astrology.
No. For a small fee (in Canadian dollars), I’ll do an easy-to-use synopsis of two characters at a time, just for you. Aren’t I nice? 😊
There’s an amazing amount of free Astrology information available online and that’s where I get my information from. Ever vigilant and aware of copyright—I am an author, after all—I use this information to remind myself of the main points and am setting them out in bullet form for potential clients. Rewriting in my own words. I also have books on Astrology that have been tucked away in my bookcase for years.
An Example of What I Will Provide
I picked a name. On Facebook, I see many memes that refer to Susan. “Where’s your spray bottle now, Susan?” is one example. So, I picked Susie as a name for the female example. The male is named Adam. According to perhaps half the population of Planet Earth, Adam is everybody’s nth great grandfather.
I had decided to set these up for Romance writers so picked the middle-ish of June—the month of weddings—for Susie’s birthday and, since I know a bit about Astrology, I chose Scorpio for Adam’s Sun Sign. Why? It is said that with certain aspects, Scorpio can go either to Heaven or to Hell. Hey. Why not? I decided to point to a map of the USA with my eyes closed and came up with Arkansas as Susie’s birth State and chose the capital city, Little Rock, at 2:17 PM. For Adam, I picked Montreal, Canada. Because I like that city.
I decided to use only Sun to Saturn because beyond Saturn are what they call the Generational Aspects because it takes years for these planets to orbit the Sun. (So I have used Sun, Ascendant, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.)
Imagine my absolute delight to discover that, serendipitously, I had practically set up a story just through their personalities alone!
None of this actually goes into a story, eh? None of it whatsoever. The information provided is merely an aid for the writer to get to know how their characters might react at any given moment to any given situation—subconsciously.
Because what I will be offering is not for real people, I have set aside diplomacy and am telling it like it is. I will be asking clients to choose numbers and letters, which I have already coded, to avoid having somebody giving me the actual birthdate of a real person. (My bluntness might cause offense. But it will be great for a character.) I will provide the birth details, of course, but not until I’ve completed the project.
AND ANOTHER NOTE
I have also studied the Tarot to some extent so have set up a spread (this follows the Compatibility Report) to perhaps provide an atmosphere, as it were, from which these characters evolved. Situation of birth; growing-up environment; current situation; and how the two characters might interact with each other. Or not. Four cards each. And none of this goes into the story either. (And I’ll be asking for “pick a number/letter between …” for this part, too.)
The Compatibility Report, by the way, can work for Protagonist and Antagonist and any other characters that interact, not just lovers.
Let’s put Susie and Adam into a situation. University? Job? Travel? What or where might they be studying/working at/going to that might cause their lives to overlap? Or collide? (We can easily switch Susie and Adam’s Charts, or called them Character 1 and Character 2.)
Chart Data for Susie
14 June 1998 at 14:17 (2:17 PM) Little Rock AR
Sun in Gemini
- collector of and sharer of information;
- flexible, changeable, adaptable;
- many friends/social contacts;
- clever, witty; and
- easily bored.
Ascendant in Libra
- appear to be exceptionally nice, pleasant and fair;
- first impression is that of easy, warm, approachable;
- may have had quite a few problems in relationships;
- a string of relationships—but why?; and
- often doesn’t know what to do without a significant other.
Moon in Aquarius
- extremely observant;
- student of human nature;
- analyzes why people do what they do;
- detached, especially when young;
- charming; and
Mercury in Gemini
- quick witted;
- appears scatter-brained;
- seems to know a little about everything but superficial knowledge;
- easily bored;
- restless/nervous energy; and
- smooth talker, even deceptive. (If Mercury is Retrograde, this aspect is exaggerated especially if Moon is also in Gemini.)
Venus in Taurus
- enjoys creature comforts;
- revels in the sensual;
- a satisfying lover; and
- demands dependability.
Mars in Gemini
- debating is a specialty;
- verbally assertive to the point of aggression;
- often wins the argument;
- sharp wit;
- enthusiastically talkative;
- mental rather than physical; and
- teacher material (for favorite subjects only).
Jupiter in Pisces
- attracts good fortune when looking out for others;
- believes that goodness brings rewards;
- motivated by a universal vision;
- strong belief in a higher power; and
- helping those in need boosts morale.
Saturn in Taurus
- fear of not having what’s needed;
- fear of being dependent more developed than most;
- self-indulgence causes guilt (can lead to binging/purging cycles);
- asking for help is difficult; and
- racked with guilt when “winning.”
Susie’s Planets in the Houses
Sun in Ninth House
- deep need to understand the world;
- high ideals;
- eye always on horizon;
- must watch out for self-righteousness and being overly optimistic;
- outdoorsy, adventurous; and
- enjoys education, knowledge, philosophy, travel, publishing.
Moon in Fifth House
- enjoy sharing emotional experiences;
- flair for drama;
- magnetic, intense in love;
- attached to children;
- creative talent but changes hobbies frequently;
- impulsive shopper or gambler or lover;
- risk taker; and
- often restless and dissatisfied without something to occupy time.
Mercury in Ninth House
- eternal curiosity;
- learning and studying, exchanging ideas;
- buoyant, enthusiastic;
- misses details but easily discovers solutions;
- takes pleasure in inspiring others;
- quick to offer unresearched advice; and
- somewhat overly enthusiastic about saying yes.
Venus in Eighth House
- enjoys psychology, investigation;
- likes the darker side of life and people;
- student of human nature;
- enjoys solving mysteries, especially why people are the way they are;
- attracted to the hidden, forbidden, taboo;
- intense in love, wholeheartedly giving over;
- charm runs deep;
- intensity either lures or frightens off;
- skilled at handling others’ money, resources, talents; and
- likes collecting things (let’s hope it isn’t “trophies” from serial murders? Or let’s hope it is?).
Mars in Ninth House
- likes adventure, debates, learning new things;
- negative reactions if disagreed with;
- pushy when trying to discover truths from someone;
- sometimes sees sex as a sport;
- hearty laugh;
- mentally restless; and
- physically restless, seeks to explore and experience.
Jupiter in Sixth House
- treats others with respect;
- helps the less fortunate;
- takes pleasure in being of use;
- tends to overwork; and
- rich foods may be a problem.
Saturn in Seventh House
- high regard re commitment;
- questions self-worth in relationships; and
- something of an introvert because of distrust of others.
Chart Data for Adam
2 November 1995 at 09:01 (9:01 AM) Montreal QC
Sun in Scorpio
- don’t easily commit to something;
- has own mind; but
- prestige and authority not primary motivation—real power is, even if only behind the scenes.
Ascendant in Sagittarius
- the world is filled with adventure;
- hopeful, full of promises, faith and enthusiasm;
- grand schemes but with weak follow-through; and
- definitely a free spirit.
Moon in Pisces
- lacks savvy but is intuitive;
- compassionate; but
- can be lost in the suffering of others.
Mercury in Libra
- pleasing, diplomatic;
- deems mental affinity to be important so sometimes tries too hard;
- tries to be so fair, it often appears not to be fair; and
- may go off on tangents.
Venus in Scorpio
- attracts others;
- intense, willing to commit;
- feelings run deep;
- fearless when it comes to intimacy;
- “possesses”; and
- makes it feel good to be possessed.
Mars in Sagittarius
- adventurous, independent;
- when angry, feels like running away, avoids own strong emotions;
- restless, impatient;
- starts many projects, doesn’t always finish; and
- can run right over people’s feelings.
Jupiter in Sagittarius
- enthusiastic about learning and teaching;
- enjoys foreign cultures and publishing;
- strong morals; and
- values freedom.
Saturn in Pisces
- abhors pity toward both others and especially toward oneself;
- uncomfortable with excessive feelings or vulnerability in others;
- less likely to use mind-altering substances;
- uncomfortable being out of control; but
- limits self by not allowing these things.
Adam’s Planets in The Houses
Sun in Eleventh House
- humanitarian, everyone is equal;
- tolerant, open;
- magnetic appeal;
- team player; but
- so fair with everyone, it may become impersonal.
Moon in Third House
- curious, responsive;
- doesn’t like to study;
- knack for languages;
- emotions more mental than actually felt;
- vacillating in opinions and ideas, might even adopt others’ ideas as one’s own;
- nervous, restless, needs frequent change of scenery; and
- good at written or spoken word.
Mercury in Eleventh House
- life has constant change;
- may have shady friends/associates;
- loves what’s new and different (including people but only while they are new); and
- would make a good reporter as curious about what’s going on in society.
Venus in Twelfth House
- quick to help but occasionally at own expense;
- sometimes needs privacy to reboot;
- romantic but almost smothering for Significant Other;
- boundaries not well-defined so often hurt in love;
- partners often “different” (as in bad/crazy people!) so can be taken advantage of; but
- love and sacrifice are seen as one and the same.
Mars in First House
- starts out with enthusiasm that soon dissolves;
- stamina is admired by others;
- likes to take the lead;
- independent; and
- boredom could bring on trouble.
Jupiter in First House
- kind, happy, optimistic;
- confident/present in a big way;
- positive thinking; and
- high morals.
Saturn in Third House
- opinionated with ensuing guilt for speaking out; so
- often unsure of what to do.
Compatibility Report for Susie and Adam
Trine Susie Sun / Adam Mercury
- challenges resolved through excellence in communication skills;
- similar cultural interests; and
- eager to hear each other out and learn from each other.
Opposition Susie Sun / Adam Jupiter
- this opposition promotes tolerance for differences;
- creates harmony;
- supportive; but
- encourages problematic excesses.
Square Susie Sun / Adam Saturn
- core differences numerous;
- egos easily offended;
- fiery disputes;
- each wary of personal attack so on constant edge; and
- each bears one side of an unpleasant yoke.
Sextile Susie Moon / Adam Jupiter
- not all that romantic; but
- plenty of good will;
- understanding; and
Trine Susie Mercury / Adam Mercury
- so positive, it’s scary;
- thoughts are in sync;
- excellent communication; and
- favorable especially for a creative environment.
Sextile Susie Venus / Adam Saturn
- promises a peachy-keen relationship;
- loyalty, cooperation;
- stability; and
- shared goals.
Square Adam Moon / Susie Mars
- a never-ending maelstrom of turmoil;
- possible physical abuse from either side;
- initial strong physical attraction but a big but ensues from it; so
- it will no doubt end “unpleasantly.”
Opposition Susie Mars / Adam Mars
- this aspect can cause mutual aggression;
- competitiveness could be constant in all its forms;
- expect a constant unfriendly atmosphere; and
- impulsive behavior.
Opposition Susie Mars / Adam Jupiter
- this aspect is “challenging”;
- very few shared purposes;
- too many unshared goals; so
- almost impossible to make a relationship flourish.
Square Susie Mars / Adam Saturn
- this aspect is very bad news;
- conflict; and
Trine Adam Venus / Susie Jupiter
- lovely and harmonious relationship;
- generous and considerate toward each other; and
- toward mutual friends.
Opposition Adam Mercury / Susie Saturn
- negative aspect for almost everything;
- lack of trust;
- lack of communication; and
- deception on both sides.
Square Adam Sun / Susie Uranus
- not promising for long-term relationship; but
- a short-term irresistible attraction.
Sextile Adam Mars / Susie Uranus
- a strong ability to work together especially creatively;
- many talents differ but strong as a team;
- will no doubt raise each other’s energy levels; and
- all things seem possible.
Tarot Spread for Two Characters
Cards chosen at random.
Susie on the left and Adam on the right.
First impression is that Adam has three cards Reversed (upside down). This weakens the effect of those cards. A good thing, sometimes, if the card has a negative message.
In the Situation of Birth position, upper left for Susie, the Eight of Swords indicates a lack of freedom or choice. However, on closer examination, it appears that with a little effort, the captive could wriggle free, remove the blindfold and walk away. The swords do not surround her.
In the upper right, Adam has the Four of Pentacles. Control, control, control. This card can also indicate stinginess. Poor lad to have had such parents. So resistant to change! But in the Reversed position, it indicates an easing up. Maybe just one parent was like that?
But what was it like growing up in these circumstances?
The Ace of Wands for Susie in the Growing-up Environment Position, tells us that she was daring and brave as a child, perhaps had an urge toward new ways and ideas, maybe even inventing things.
Adam’s Reversed Justice card makes us wonder. Was Adam rescued from his overly controlled environment by the Children’s Aid Society by any chance?
Susie’s next card, The Hermit, indicates soul searching in her Current Situation. What does she want to do with her life? She’s at a point now where she is seeking her future both inwardly and outwardly.
But look at Adam’s card. It seems that Adam has made his decisions but the spinning wheel has him wondering where his choices might land him. He has decided but he doesn’t know if anything will work out.
Adam’s Ten of Cups, whether Reversed or not, indicates peace, joy, family and positivity. Things will no doubt work out well in harness with Susie’s Queen of Pentacles, a warm and caring partner whose greatest joy is to do things for others. What a connection this will be between the two of them!