Using Astrology, Numerology, Archetypes or Personality Type Indicators To Interpret Character

I haven’t really been thinking as much about the writing process lately (and perhaps this is a bad thing…), but I have, for various reasons, been thinking about ways of understanding people.

Sometimes I like to analyze things, or study different ways of interpreting and making sense of the world–especially when it comes to people’s personalities.  It’s not that I place 100% stock in any one way; I just like to sift through them all and see how they make sense when considered holistically.  It’s kind of like I create this mental collage with information from different perspectives to in order to “see” the bigger picture, I suppose…

Potentially Helpful Writing Tools

In certain books about creating characters many authors will mention tools such as using character archetypes (such as The Shapeshifter, The Mentor, The Threshold Guardian, etc.) to help a writer determine what roles their characters will play in their novels.  Sometimes characters will fulfill just one role; others times they might fulfill several.  It’s not that a character has to follow these archetypes, just that it can make understanding his/her purpose in a story a bit easier.

But such archetypes are not the only tools at a writer’s disposal.

Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of other ways to interpret people’s personalities.  The astrological zodiac is probably one of the most popular tools Westerners, at least, use to identify themselves (especially when dating, it seems).  I’m not into reading and believing horoscopes and all of that, though I always find it interesting to read up on various personality types.  I’ve certainly used astrology to help me better understand some of the characters in my writing project.  It’s been particularly useful to me because I’ve been playing with the idea of the elements (earth, water, air, fire, etc.), so assigning each character a dominant element then reading about how this would affect their personality has been endlessly fascinating and useful for exploring the idea of the elements more deeply–both psychologically and in terms of magic.  There’s also Chinese astrology and its five elements, which I find equally interesting.

Getting away from astrology, there’s also numerology, which is based on a system of assigning numbers to letters and deriving meaning from people’s names and birth dates.  Personally I haven’t read up extensively on how all of that works, precisely, but I do find the resulting analysis of different names to be particularly enlightening.  Another interesting tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which may sometimes be used by employers to learn how their employees might fit into the workplace and also to facilitate better communication between everyone.

Now, any of these tools can be used on an individual character basis, though they can also be used to explore compatibility (or lack thereof) between characters.  Say you’re writing an interaction with two characters but the dialogue just feels stifled, or unnatural.  If you already know their general individual traits then you can use one of (or some of) these tools to read up on personality types, which could give you pointers on how these characters might behave around one another.

I think of all of these methods more as guidelines than ironclad rules–because, at the end of the day, people (and some characters) are just too darn complex to map out on paper.

Say, I Think You’re Going a Bit Overboard, There…

Hey, I don’t actually recommend using all of these things when coming up with characters.  Not only can it be time-consuming but unnecessary, once explored to a certain point.  (For me, though, it’s just something that really interests me outside of writing and so I just can’t resist!)  However, these tools can be useful if you’re having trouble fleshing out a character or deciding what kind of role they should play in your story.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t start out with archetypes and whatnot at all before I’ve attempted to put a character together myself and write about them a bit (I haven’t so far), but once you’ve gotten the ball rolling a bit exploration-wise it might not hurt to look into one of these tools for further development; they could provide great pointers and inspiration!

Do you use any of these tools when creating characters?

If so, which is(are) your favorite(s), or which do you find most useful?  If not, what else do you tend to use?


18 thoughts on “Using Astrology, Numerology, Archetypes or Personality Type Indicators To Interpret Character

  1. Yes I have, and do! I’ve also looked at horoscopes as a way of building a personality profile for characters, and I’ve also used the Meyers Briggs to devle into character psychology, and how characters might react in certain situations. Its fun 😉 They’re like endless character building blocks.


  2. Figuring out character personalities and how they relate to one another is perhaps my favorite part of the writing process. Whenever I happen across a fun personality quiz in a magazine or somewhere, I’m more likely to take it seven times as different characters than once as myself. I don’t tend to turn to any particular -ologies, because my babies rarely fit the types neatly enough to suit my black-and-white, all-or-nothing side.
    Going through my Anything and Everything Character Questionnaire ( )is time-consuming, but enlightening; I usually use it after I’ve already gotten to know the character a bit, but it’s helped me during the brainstorming stage, too. And if you can force your characters to play Truth or Dare with you, or just answer a lot of completely random poll questions, there’s a lot to be learned there., as well.
    End of the day, the method matters less than the result. Books are better when the characters are their full, multidimensional selves. (:


    • “End of the day, the method matters less than the result. Books are better when the characters are their full, multidimensional selves. (:”

      True dat!

      “Whenever I happen across a fun personality quiz in a magazine or somewhere, I’m more likely to take it seven times as different characters than once as myself.”

      LoL. I started doing this with numerology. Hmm…

      Oh wow, and that questionnaire you linked to…I don’t think I’ve ever filled out a list that long for any of my characters! :O I’d change my mind too much along the way and end up giving up altogether on updating the list, heh. But I can see how it might help with getting initial impressions down, for sure.


      • Yup, it’s a long one, alright. Confessions: I’ve started some and given up (at least for now). And then there are those I completed several months ago, and I look back now and realize that the character has grown past this, that, or the other. On one level, it’s a little bit frustrating. (All that time I put into it, and now it’s *wrong*?!) But mostly, it feels kind of cool — like wow, Allyn, look how far you’ve come since the beginning! It almost brings a “Mommy Moment” tear to my eye…


  3. I’ve definitely thought about some of these things, but you’re right, it doesn’t tend to be particularly useful for inventing characters. I did try that once with the zodiac, and the problem was that I create stories with plot first, and then plop characters into roles to make the plot go – I ended up with a bunch of characters, and no plot.


    • Yeah…it’s hard to get the balance right between characters and plot no matter which angle you start from. Heck, it took me seven-and-a-half drafts on this current project of mine! haha (Well, not necessarily seven full drafts, but I’d gotten many, many chapters deep in most that I just consider them draft 1, 2, 3, etc…)


  4. I don’t really do any of those things. If I’m writing a conversation between two characters and it’s not really working, I figure it’s not the conversation they would be having at that point in the story, and I try to figure out what conversation they would have instead. I usually act it out in my mind, and then I write down what they say (Dave Sim, the writer/artist of the comic book Cerebus, used to call this “method acting” a scene).

    For me, getting to know my characters is pretty much a lifetime process, and it has to take its course. I’m writing a scene now about my detective, Jan Sleet, and its first time I’ve written about her in third person for… at least fifteen years. And she’s older than the was the last time around, so I’m learning some things about her as I write.

    I know some people like the idea of interviewing their characters, but I’ve never tried it. I have some characters who _really_ wouldn’t like it, and some of them are armed. 🙂


    • You know, I tried interviewing, too, but I actually find it more useful to just try and write them in some made up scene, heh. So it’s not necessarily for everyone. (None of these methods are.)

      It does seem like it’s taken me a long time to figure out some of my characters, though. Not necessarily a lifetime :P, but several years, at least.


  5. I’ve been meaning to do this with the characters in my current WIP. I’ve never been much to give much thought or attention to things like astrology or numerology for purposes of understanding characters (with the exception that a story might occur in a world where those things actually work, though I don’t have any immediate examples of when I might have done that). But I have thought about characters in terms of personality types and of mythic archetypes.

    A long time ago, I talked about another personality tool that can be used to understand characters. It’s more complex than Myers-Briggs, but it’s also more useful, IMO. It’s called the Birkman Method, and I discussed it here. The whole of the Birkman is a bit too complex to cover, and I don’t have access to the underlying tools to develop a full Birkman for any given character. But the important part, I think, is covered by what Birkman calls the “Needs Graph” that assesses personality and behavior across 11 characteristics.

    Which reminds me. I need to do up a sample Birkman sometime soon for my main characters in my WIP…


  6. I was in the final stages for a job with a company that does nothing but assess business executives and employee training. Companies that are looking to dole out $200,000 salaries want to make sure they’re hiring the right person.

    So as a prospective employee for the assessment company, they put me through a battery of tests. I’m talking 8 hours of every kind of assessment – including IQ, EQ, Myrtis Briggs, etc. In the end, I learned some cool things about me. But geez, I also felt like it was overkill!


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