I’ve wanted to write love stories since I was way too young to know what a love story really was. I’m not necessarily talking about category romance (although I’d like to have a shot at that one day), but the sort of stories that allow you to escape from your own life into one where despite the crap, there is the possibility of a happy ending. Even if that ending doesn’t involve a bended knee proposal, the whole point is for the heroine to learn something and for me – the reader – to feel hopeful for her.
That’s why I started writing about astrology – and yes, I know that some of you reading this who would say that writing astrology is the perfect base for writing fiction, but go with me on this…
They say that if you want to write, then you have to read, and you have to write. The reading part I had no issues with – I’ve been a prolific reader my whole life. The writing part? Well, that was different. What could I write about? Most of my writing had, until then, consisted of project charters, credit proposals, or tender responses.
I was studying astrology at the time – initially the result of a rather drastic mid-life crisis, and later out of a real enjoyment of the subject. I figured I’d write about what I was learning… as I learnt it. And the astrology blog was born.
It’s through the thousands of posts that have followed, that I’ve discovered my style and my voice – and developed a writing habit.
It’s also the tool that I use to help me get into the head of my characters.
I’m not what you’d call a plotter. The manuscript I’m working on now is at the 40,000 word mark. I’m about halfway through and due to finish the first draft at the end of February – yet I’m still not entirely sure how Callie (my heroine) is going to have the happy ever after she deserves. What I do know is what her chart looks like – no spoilers. In knowing this I know what her motivations are, how she thinks, how she reacts instinctively to stresses and challenges, how she relates, how she goes after what she really wants, and what (and who) turns her on.
In my first draft of Wish You Were Here, Max was seriously floaty. I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t know why – because she didn’t know what she wanted. As soon as I gave her a chart, I had her motivation. Once I had her motivation, I could create a conflict that would send cause her more than a few problems.
It was the same with my heroine, Abby Brentnall in Big Girls Don’t Cry. I knew right from the start that Abby was an Aries. I also knew right from the start that she needed some triggers to confront the events of her past and take her to who she needed to be and what she needed to be doing. Without getting too technical, I used astrology for that too. In order to bring Abby forward, I needed to take her into her shadow side.
Every sign has strengths and shadows. Generally we stray into the shadow without knowing. We escape to there from whatever is stressing or haunting us, so we don’t have to deal with whatever it is we don’t want to face. Of course, being fiction, we highlight these in order to create a contrast between who the character is at the start of the book, and how she has grown.
Very often that shadow is the exaggeration of the strength of our Sun. Abby, an Aries, is assertive and independent. Qualities that, in extreme, can easily be seen as selfish, self-centred and willful – both words associated with the Aries shadow. Abby laughs at herself when she says to Todd:
‘Typical fricken Aries ‒ it’s all about you.’
‘You’d know,’ he said.
Brad used to laugh at the self-centred impatience that Todd and I ‒ whose birthdays were only a week apart ‒ had in common.
The famous Aries need to compete can become a need to win at all costs, or regardless of the cost. I used Andi, Abby’s best friend, to illustrate this when she warned Abby:
‘You don’t have to win every battle. If you’re not careful, you’ll take it too far and be left with nothing.’
If taken too far, the Aries self-reliance, or doing it for themselves by themselves can also result in isolation or loneliness- as Abby finds out.
We can also find our shadow when we stray too far into our opposite sign and find instead its shadow. This is what happened with Abby. Ever so gradually over the years her independence and fearlessness – the strengths that saw her stand up for what she believed in; the courage that made her charge head-first into whatever it was that was challenging her – those edges were smoothed, civilised and compromised.
In the first chapter, Brad sets this up when he tells her:
You’re picking an argument because I asked you to come with me and you don’t want to make the decision. What’s happened to you? There was a time when you would have jumped at the chance of an adventure ‒ you’d have been on that plane before I finished the sentence. Once upon a time, you would have jumped out of the plane!’
Once I’d put Abby into her shadow, I needed to give her the tools to find herself again.
I did the same with Em in Baby, It’s You. Em is in many ways a good example of the textbook Pisces shadow – inappropriate footwear and a tendency to fall for unattainable men… not that she fell for anyone who belonged to anyone else, just men who were rebounding from someone, and needed to be fixed up so their past wanted them back. Her friend Susie, referred to it as renovation dating.
Em had, over the years, gone to her opposite sign (Virgo) to find a way of controlling her environment, but in doing so had become dependent on lists, organisation, and her comfort zone. For Em to have her happy ending, I needed to take her beyond her own boundaries so that she could step out into possibility and trust that things would still be ok. To do that, I gave her someone else’s bucket list.
As for my heroes? They have a chart as well. Not so that I can send them on any personal growth journey, but so that I can develop their character. Josh in Baby, It’s You, has all of the mutable, how – hard – can – it – be optimism of Sagittarius. For him, life is an adventure. An exhausting adventure.
Brad in Big Girls Don’t Cry has the steady patience and reliability of Taurus. Yes, he has a stubborn streak, but he’s learnt to temper that and save his anger for when it really matters.
As for Richie in Wish You Were Here, he’s a Scorpio – and has all the magnetic, strong and sexy appeal that goes with that. And, he should have been taught how to use his words when he was growing up. Just saying.