Last week we talked about expository lumps, and how a writer's job is to chop them up into small pieces, to make salad out of grocery bags of ingredients. Here's one of the tools for chopping up your expository lumps: Pluto.
I've done 9 previous posts on Astrology Just For Writers, which I suspect many of you skipped.
Here's a post listing the URLs of my posts on Astrology:
And here are a few mentioning those posts and elaborating on the content and showing how powerful an understanding of Astrology can be for writers:
And particularly this one on Greed which mentions how writers (who don't actually know astrology) can use Astrology to create compelling effects in their writing:
That last one is about character motivation, Romance, screenwriting, and Gordon Gekko.
Astrology Just For Writers Part 9 focuses on Pluto:
It's titled High Drama and is about Pluto and how to use those transits in writing by listening to the "drumbeat" of the world of finance. It references Tiger Woods and his fight with his wife. Subsequently, we've seen his struggles to get his golf game back into shape, and now health issues (Pluto is related to that kind of bodily breakdown) keeping him off the circuit. Part 9 traces world trends over long decades of time, even centuries, showing how that High Drama has peaks and valleys in a rhythm that writers can use to create plots.
When you talk about Astrology used in fiction, people think immediately of creating a Natal Chart for characters, or using some cookbook on transits to plot.
That doesn't work. You don't get "realistic" effects, and you end up with expository lumps because you have to "explain" the astrology which is just plain Greek to your readers.
And the truth is, you don't understand it either, so don't try to explain it. Just use Astrology to understand the world around you in ways that are not your own ways.
That's right, learning just a little about what Astrology is and does can let you see the world through the eyes of your readers whom you've never met and maybe never will.
I saw recently how everyone views the world through Astrology, consciously or unconsciously.
I caught a comment on twitter flying by me about the rhythm of the world that seemed to the tweeter to go in 30 year cycles.
I tweeted back that was the period of Saturn (which is 29 years or so).
The tweeter answered that was just the natural way the world goes.
Well, yes, it is, which is why Astrology is still with us after millenia. It isn't a theory people invented to explain things. It's empirical. People observed that when such-and-so kind of life event was afoot, if you look up at night, you will see this-and-that for sure. They tabulated those observations over generations and compiled a set of reliable coincidences. And it works backwards. When you look up and see this, look down and you'll find that, sure enough.
Since we now live long enough to see a couple or three cycles of Saturn, people are more aware of it than ever. We now have TV clips from 30 years ago, film from 60 years ago, a library of the past which reveals how it is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
It's that cycle, that drumbeat of general public moods which you can sort out by using astrology, then write to the mood that will prevail in a few years, or 10 years or more.
The sledge hammer of the zodiac is Pluto (which got demoted from planetary status because it's small and very likely a "capture" not a piece of matter native to this star).
Pluto is a "foreign influence."
People who don't study Astrology often pick up the charlatan's rant about how they can predict what will happen in your life, or how the stars "rule" (we still use that language, rulerships, but it has nothing to do with having power over you.)
Astrologers know the planets are just a giant clock, and we live to the rhythm of that clock.
A planet transiting a position in your natal chart does not MAKE YOU do or feel a certain way. It does not make anything happen. It merely signifies the time in your life when such a thing might be more probable than at other times. But what can happen, what will happen, what might happen and how probable each is depends on the free will choices and actions the character has taken up to that point.
Understanding astrology can help a writer avoid having the plot events in a novel seem "contrived" and the characters who get hammered by events (to the good or to the bad) seem undeserving. Of course, there are many other disciplines and studies that can supply that craft dimension, but Astrology being a mathematical analysis of human personality, is peculiarly suited to Science Fiction and therefore to SFRomance. (oh, yes, scientists will argue against that idea. Controversy makes good drama!)
The key the writer needs to grasp is how a character's free will choices combine with the prevailing influence in her life to produce events which, though decades apart in time and place, nevertheless are related poetically.
Astrology maps the heavens with the Earth at the center, making it useful as a timer giving you information on the shape of your life.
The timer may say you have an appointment with the dentist, but it doesn't say whether you'll be there or whether he'll be there, or whether you'll have a cavity.
Even if Pluto is a capture, a "stranger," its effects are still linked to the period of its orbit which is no accident but a property of it's mass, the Sun's mass, the angle at which it approached, and the speed it had at the time.
One might say humanity needed that "hand" on our clock, so G-d provided it.
A clock hand doesn't cause things to happen. It signifies the probability that such a type of event might happen. If free will actions have set up the conditions for a Pluto-style Event, that Event will most likely occur at the point in time signified by a transit of Pluto to some point in the Natal Chart -- or the starting event in the sequence which is culminating. Remember how I discuss novel plotting as a "because-line" -- where because this happened, that happens, which causes something else, which leads to whatever.
Those are two posts related to "because line" plotting.
Pluto style Events hit with sledge hammer force, but usually they're not "unpredictable" (as Uranus style events can be). Pluto brings consequences, usually from actions taken decades previously.
Pluto does have certain kinds of Events linked to it (it rules the 8th House, Scorpio, hidden things, other people's resources including money and money used as power, inheritance, public values, taxes imposed by a government, especially death taxes). But it's main property is FORCE. Hence, if you want to understand the hidden power behind world events, "follow the money."
Whatever is happening, whatever has been earned, whatever train of events is in motion, when Pluto gets involved that pattern signified by other planets will become bigger, larger, more exaggerated, larger than life, dramatic, and will hit not with jeweler's hammer force but sledge-hammer force.
Noel Tyl (http://noeltyl.com) attributes the timing of major illness to transits of Pluto.
Other transits - you catch a cold. A Pluto transit, and it's pneumonia.
Other transits, the mole on your leg is just cancerous, they take it off, and it's gone. A Pluto transit and the mole turns out to be melanoma and then, as Pluto swings back and forth over the sensitive Natal point, they find the melanoma is of the most virulent sort -- maybe you survive, maybe not.
If a character's life is constructed strong, with plan-B, C, D in place, with cross-bracing of many friends, people willing to go to the mat for that person, a grand paper trail of accomplishments, and assets stockpiled against trouble, that sledge hammer will change but not destroy that life. He'll pay the hospital bills, and walk away into bigger and better things. But because of the expense, maybe he can't move to the larger house, or has to buy a used car again, or doesn't dare try to change jobs to get a promotion. He becomes entrenched, having been hammered down by the blow.
A life of sandcastles built on hopes and dreams is likely to be smashed to smithereens and scattered to the winds. Because of lack of money, caused by a lack of a college education maybe (though not in today's world), he won't have gone to the doctor in time, will be relegated to the least expensive treatment paid for by public funds, maybe not be educated enough to follow instructions, -- too little, too late, and the character dies of melanoma.
But Pluto can have another effect. It can magnify the fame, glory and fortune of a character beyond recognition. The cancerous plight becomes the News Story of the Day, experts consult all over the world, a new experimental treatment gets authorized, the whole world waits for the results. Huge drama.
That in itself can be extraordinarily destructive. Fame can become notoriety, and the character never gets another job requiring security clearance. The character might be the spy who gets outed, gets captured, escapes, and gets fired (yes I watch Burn Notice!)
When you grasp how both horrendous disaster and grandiose success are exactly the same thing in life, and how both can be toxic to your characters' peace of mind, mental stability, or love life, you can begin to slice-n-dice your characters' backstories into "salad" as I discussed last week.
Feed it to your reader a bite-size at a time, it's delicious. Hand them the whole head of lettuce with sand still on it, and it's not delicious.
When you understand the periodicity of "life" in the same terms that your readers understand it, you can center the plot around those specific life-changing events that are signified by Pluto.
Pluto, as I said, hits like a sledge hammer, but you can see it coming if you know where to look.
You can start your opening scene with the Pluto sledge-hammer landing a hard blow ( melanoma is diagnosed) and you have one story -- how to cope with the diagnosis, what treatment to get, where, when, paid for how, who will help during recovery, etc.
Or you can showcase the Pluto blow as the middle Event of your novel's plot -- the main character makes a long chain of really bad decisions leading to Melanoma, and then has to cope. For example, you open on the college kid taking a lifeguard position during summers to work his way through school, drops out of school to become a beach-bum running drugs, melts down on drugs, gets diagnosed with melanoma and deserted by all friends, gets through it, goes back to school and gets an MD degree.
Or Pluto's blow may destroy the villain at the very end of your story with Poetic Justice which the Hero has been trying to avert by getting the Villain to repent and mend his ways -- maybe the Villain was a Tanning Bed mogul getting rich off giving others melanoma, and the Hero is campaigning to get laws against tanning salons, and they battle in the media and YouTube and the mogul tans himself charcoal -- gets melanoma. End villain, weepy funeral, great wedding for the Hero.
One prominent characteristic of Pluto transits is that when they hit (usually 3 times as Pluto transits retrograde back over the sensitive Natal point, then again over that point) with humongous force, and HAMMER YOU DOWN into the ground.
If your character's life is built strongly, the character will be hammered down hard, harder, hardest, and with each blow sink deeper into his life's position. But once the 3 blows have landed, the character is firmly entrenched in his life and no subsequent event can dislodge him -- because Pluto moves so slowly it won't hit like that again in 100 year lifespan.
The Pluto transit is actually the source of the realistic, and real life, Happily Ever After. Terrible things happen, and after that it's smooth going.
Of course Vampires, that's another story. Pluto again and again 4 times during every 248 years or so (it's the squares and oppositions that get you).
For example: a character with a strongly built life might 1)Get a girl pregnant 2) shotgun wedding, not really liking this woman very much 3) she has a Down's Syndrome kid. 3 Pluto type blows.
Now what? The woman turns out to have the Love to accept and nurture that child, the guy reaches down inside and finds the strength to go to school and become a therapist for the learning disabled, together the couple creates, invents, politically motivates groups, spreads the word on the internet, gets the help they need, raises the child who actually grows up to be self-sufficient and perhaps even a valuable contributor to the world in some way.
The same character with a weakly built life 1) Gets a girl pregnant 2) shotgun abortion 3) gets murdered by the girl when she realizes what he did to her. Maybe the novel is her trial for murder, and the Romance is with her lawyer, they win and live happily ever after. Her life has become entrenched because of the blows of Pluto, and she will never again be dislodged by a blow that any other transit can deliver.
That's the pattern you can use to break up your expository lumps. Take your lump of explanation, divide it into 3 BIG BLOWS then play out the logical consequences. Don't explain it, do it.
How's Your Love Life?
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