character development for writers, crotalus horridus, eleanor roosevelt, gary goldschneider, google books, homeopathic remedies, homeopathy, james scott bell, joost elffers, materia medica, materia medica with repertory, plot and structure, rattlesnake, the day of gracious ease, the secret language of birthdays, william boericke, write great fiction
Ever feel pleased with yourself for thinking of an idea no one has thought before? Yeah. Me too. And then you find out that someone else had the idea so it’s nothing new? Yeah. Been to that ego-deflating land, too. Paid a visit recently in fact.
There’s a chapter on character development in James Scott Bell’s Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure. Bell indicates that there’s much more to character development than what’s in this particular book, but he gives a brief overview of ways to go about it. One method he mentions as an ideal way to develop fictional characters is to use astrology. Hey! That was my idea!
I was heavy into astrology when I was in high school, working up my chart and the charts of my friends, even going so far as to order my horoscope from a company that specialized in it. I wrote a research paper examining Eleanor Roosevelt’s personality through astrology. (Call me crazy, but I got an “A” on the paper and it was used by the teacher as a example of a good research paper for later students.) As I got older and became more enthralled with writing and less enthralled with astrology from a belief perspective, I realized that astrology could still be useful from a character development standpoint.
I own a fabulous astrology book that works particularly well for this task. It’s called The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider and Joost Elffers. What makes this book effective for character development is that it contains personality profiles for every day of the year. With most astrology books, you have to figure out an astrological profile and extrapolate a personality from there. That’s too much work, especially when there is a book out there that’s got it all done for you. One feature of the book is that each day has been given a name … my birthday is The Day of Gracious Ease … which helps writers keep the personality of a character in mind. I’ve been using this book recently to pick birthdays for some characters, starting first with a fuzzy idea of the personality I imagine my characters having and then using the book to see if I can find birthday profiles that match or come close. Normally several birthdays have potential so I make note of these and then reread the descriptions later in order to make a definitive choice.
Aside from astrology, there is another method of character development that I think would be useful … and I haven’t seen it mentioned yet, so maybe I won’t have to pay another visit to Ego Deflation Land. The Materia Medicas used by homeopaths are filled with physical and emotional profiles based on homeopathic remedies. These could easily be adapted to create fictional characters, right down to their appearances in many cases.
I’ll give you an example. The remedy Crotalus Horridus (rattlesnake) would be used on patients who have a “weeping mood; cloud perception and memory; [and impatience].” They are “loquacious, with desire to escape.” They are sad and have “delusions of cerebral decay.” Their eyes are “very sensitive to light, especially lamp light.” They have an “intolerance of clothing around stomach.” Their skin shows “swelling and discoloration” and there is a “yellow color of the whole body.” [pg. 193-194, Materia Medica with Repertory by William Boericke, MD, 9th edition, 1927]
That’s a very small part of the description for this remedy from a Materia Medica filled with hundreds of such remedy profiles. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in homeopathy (or astrology, for that matter); these are ready-made tools for writers.
Have you discovered similar such tools for character development that aren’t necessarily pegged as being related to writing? If so, please share in the comments.
Looks like The Secret Language of Birthdays is also online, at Google Books. (I can’t vouch for whether every page shows up, but it sure looks like it.)