Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Astrology Just For Writers Part 8: The Beat Sheet

But first --

A word about the Galaxy Express contest. At the right sidebar, you see a column of book covers. Enter by commenting on the announcement post here below and one person wins them all. If you win, and have already read the book I put up there, Dushau, you can switch to one of its sequels or one of the other titles at http://www.jacquelinelichtenberg.com


Now to the BEAT SHEET, a mysterious screenwriting term that is the major key to success in text-fiction writing today.

The "Beat Sheet" we'll discuss is the one featured in the "Save The Cat" series of screenwriting techniques by the late Blake Snyder. A pdf copy can be downloaded at


Get it, print it out, puzzle over it a few minutes. The names of the beats are all interpreted and explained with examples in Blake Snyder's books.

On that website you'll also find a film or two analyzed by the beat sheet, and at the top of the page there's a list of all the films mentioned in Snyder's book, grouped by the "Genre" signatures he has extracted empirically from a plethora of blockbuster films.

Look over that list of films and you'll see from the ones you're familiar with just what his concept of "genre" does for understanding story structure, and what his beat sheet does for understanding plot structure. All this is free. The books are available on Amazon.

Snyder's concept works proportionately for shorter screenplays, say for TV for example, and you can calculate the page numbers for each beat of a shorter work at:

Try it for novel length works and see how the proportions fall. Check those proportions against your favorite books.


This blog post you are now reading is actually Part 8 in the Astrology Just For Writers series.

The previous post in this series

Was named Part 6 by accident, but was actually part 7.

The real Part 6 is

Now, in Part 8, we are blending bits and pieces of writing craft techniques we've discussed in some depth both in these Astrology posts and in the 20 posts on Tarot I did in 2007 into an orchestrated performance.

Here's the final Tarot post with links back to the previous ones.

So Astrology Part 6 was ALSO Part 2 of Targeting a Readership.

Astrology Part 7 was ALSO Part 3 of Targeting a Readership.

Using Astrology as a plotting tool is kind of like learning Quadratic Equations in Algebra. Up to now everything has been Freshman algebra, pretty simple, one thing at a time, take the lesson, practice it as a single thing, master it, move on.

Now however, we're learning cross-terms, integration, powers and factoring. Now we're starting to "solve" real life (actually writing a novel or screenplay) problems.

Yeah, now we get to "word problems."

This "Astrology Just For Writers" is a non-technical discussion of how a writer who knows no astrology (and doesn't want to learn) can apply basic principles from astrology to infuse their writing with verisimilitude.

Most people, when they hear I teach writing via Tarot and Astrology instantly think "cast a chart for the main characters" or "a character does a Tarot reading that predicts whatever and the story is how it works out against fate."

That, however, is what Hollywood screenwriters call "on the nose" and is in fact a highly inept and ineffective writing tool for most writing projects (worked gangbusters for Piers Anthony though).

Besides being "on the nose", inserting Tarot readings or doing a natal chart for a character requires expertise you can't fake by reading interpretations from books and planting them in your story.

I know because when I set out with a collaborator to create a TV series based on a group of Astrologers solving mysteries using astrology, it took me only a few hours work before I picked up the phone and called one of the biggest name Astrologers -- possibly in the whole world -- Noel Tyl.

Noel Tyl's books on Amazon

He worked with us for about 6 weeks creating the ensemble characters natal charts and charting The Event they had to dig into and solve with their individual specialties in astrology. The resulting script would pass muster with any astrologer, but didn't sell because it was too farfetched.

The Event we chose was 9/11 (written about 6 years prior), and we wrote it a lot (I mean a LOT) smaller and more trivial to make it believable and small enough to fit a TV budget, and we set it in Los Angeles.

I had done birth charts for various cities for an anthology of non-fiction on Astrology and thus knew which cities the planetary alignment in effect at that time would hit (a transit that doesn't connect with the natal chart will not manifest anything). We chose Los Angeles because it would be cheaper to do location filming there.

It was a very "on the nose" presentation of astrology, but done for the non-technical general audience who wouldn't believe it at all.

Lesson: stay off the nose. That means don't say what you mean; let the reader figure it out from their own knowledge of life in general.

Astrology and Tarot can be useful to a writer by objectively delineating the underlying patterns in life that everyone knows but can't actually see.

Astrology and Tarot reveal the poetry of life. Most writers already "see" that poetry in motion in lives around them and that's why they want to "become" writers. They want to make everyone see what they see. But others with dynamite stories to tell can't quite make sense of the way readers see life, and so can't communicate their visions.

Just a cursory glance at the body of ancient wisdom called Astrology will reveal to the writer how the world looks to readers, and allow the writer to present their unique vision in terms the reader (and editor with money to pay) will understand.

This Astrology Just For Writers series of posts is likewise useful to readers who want to become insightful and popular reviewers, but general readers may be happier not knowing the tricks of the writer's trade.

Knowing these tricks, a reviewer can assess whether the writer applied them well enough to please certain readers even though the work doesn't particularly please that reviewer.


I have 4 issues to discuss about The Beat Sheet here:

1) The Beat Sheet (go get it at the link above, read discussion below)
2) Why Astrology Does Not "Work"
3) The power of Astrology as a plotting tool
4) A Question about identifying, concocting and placing the CATALYST (Blake Snyder's term) or Inciting Incident (general screenwriting term) or Springboard (general TV writing term) from the beat sheet into your story.

1)What is Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet?

It is a list of generic types of events that have to happen in any screenplay, in that order, at those precisely proportioned intervals.

The "beats" are EVENTS -- so they are plot.

However the "beats" can be EMOTIONALLY LOADED INFORMATION revealed to the audience, so beats carry the story forward.

Ideally, in a great work of art, the emotionally loaded information is revealed via Events, a story told in pictures.

Plot and story are welded so close the viewer/reader can't tell them apart. Telling them apart is the writer's craft. The less the readers know about that craft, the more they enjoy the work of art.

It's like watching a stage magician. "How did he do that?"

Well, the point is that magicians never tell.

If we don't tell, how do we pass it down to the next generation?

As the writers who founded the art of the "motion" picture, and the "talkie" began to die off, their secrets were being lost. But in the meantime, the artform had evolved with the ever increasing sophistication of movie goers -- and of course, TV educated moreviewers in childhood, shaping new tastes.

So the artform evolved with growing frustration among producers who couldn't get the material they needed from new writers, and new writers with great ideas who couldn't sell their stuff to the moneyed producers.

Along came Blake Snyder, second generation film family (read his bio in his books and on his website).

He was a film addict and when he became filled up with films, he began to notice what made a good film, and what made a great film.

Meanwhile, he was "on the inside" working with studios and producers to get scripts whipped into usable shape.

Using "The Board" (a visual display of the beats of a script) to reveal the problems with the script and also the solutions to those problems in visual terms (film people are very visual), Blake gestalted an underlying truth that had escaped previous formulators of "how to write a screenplay."

The producers want "the same but different."

The writers want to be different - unique.

Writers get accepted for being unique, but rejected for being "too unique" which is bewildering. Writers understand "different" -- but not "the same."

Viewers, meanwhile, reject films and TV shows that are too predictable. But viewers reject films that aren't predictable enough as "making no sense."

A very rare few writers understood "the same but different" on a non-verbal, intuitive level and took Hollywood by storm. Others, with grand stories to tell, couldn't "break in." But with the internet, inexpensive computerized video recording equipment, and leaps and bounds in communications, The Independent Film Producer burst on the scene just as the Self-Published and then E-Book Publisher burst on the text scene.

And guess what? To make a great film with no budget to speak of, you need a writer who has a complete grasp of The Same But Different.

Blake Snyder's beat sheet clarified all this fog.

Today prize winning Independent films have Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet visible to the trained eye, shaping the filmed events, however cheaply produced.

What's different about Snyder's beat sheet?

It has 15 beats. It fills in the GAPS in the usual screenwriting course's beat sheet with something a writer can grab hold of and use.

Naturally, since Blake revealed this years ago, today you see the 15 beat shape everywhere, not just in the blockbusters.

In the traditional beat sheet for a film, the beat called "Inciting Incident" was formulated to be one specific kind of dramatic event.

Blake renamed it CATALYST, which broadens the application of this beat's underlying concept and allowed Blake to formulate a series of types of stories he called "genres" which define stories and group them in a different way.

All these "genres" have the same 15 beat structure.

See my review of SAVE THE CAT! on Amazon.

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

And Save The Cat Goes To The Movies!

Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter's Guide to Every Story Ever Told

And the new, 3rd book in the series pub'd Nov 2009:

Save the Cat!® Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get Into... and Out Of

Many commentators on Amazon were deriding SAVE THE CAT! as being too restrictive, too formulaic, too stultifying to writer-artists creativity. I pointed out that this series of books on screenwriting are about OPENS EVERYWHERE films, not Art House or "Opens Near You" films.

This is the beat sheet to use if you want to shoot for the Big Budget Producers (or big publicity publishers) looking for the next Batman franchise. It'll work to win film festivals, but very likely won't win film festivals focused on the leading edge of the evolution of filmed story telling.

Save The Cat! is billed as the last book on screenwriting you'll need, but that's the point. It is the last not the first. But it does reveal the connection between the screenplay market and the novel market, and how and why they are converging as they are, and how to write a novel for this new market.

Save The Cat! is not about evolving or changing or leading the film industry. It's about making money at screenwriting.

But there is ONE BEAT that appears in every single form of film, avante guarde or cliche-ridden ho-hum, in every novel and every other sort of story I've ever run across.

Every film, every story, every plot, every novel, has a CATALYST BEAT.

The CATALYST BEAT inciting me to write this blog entry was the Question by a writer who asked me to explain the Catalyst beat in depth.

The Question has 2 parts, "Beat" and "Catalyst" or "Incite."

But we are not mechanics. We are artists. Worse, yet, we are performing artists (as I was taught by Alma Hill).

Our artistic medium is not paint pigments, or sound, or woven textiles, or paper mache, or embroidery thread or city planning.

Our artistic medium is the emotions of our readers/viewers. We cause our reader/viewers to dance to our music, internally.

I should point out here that "reader" does not mean someone who can sound-out the words. This is something very frustrating and unfortunate in our world.

You can't make a 40 year old "literate" by teaching him to read. He's missed 35 years of reading thousands of books, and there's no way to replace those years or catch up.

Remedial literacy training is of course invaluable, a "Catalyst Beat" in a life that changes everything. But the later in life you "learn" to read, the less facile your brain will be at making the cold text disappear from before your eyes so you can walk into the story as a character, live their experiences, and learn vicariously.

A reader who learns at 3 or 4 to decipher words, and goes on to devour every book their parents allow (and some they don't) has learned how to make the written text on the page disappear from before their eyes and to see and experience what the characters do.

A viewer has learned to make the actors and sets (a feat in live stage) disappear and immerse themselves in the reality of the story, but that story lacks dimensions of intimacy and immediacy that can be achieved only by text (so far in our world's technology -- another Catalyst Beat would be the advent of such a new technology of storytelling.)

The writer's "craft" is the mastery of the entire set of tools designed to help readers and viewers make those concrete symbols disappear so they can live the story the writer is performing before them.

The STORY is the sequence of emotions the character experiences.

The "science" of emotions is "psychology" -- but some people can take any number of psychology courses in college, read self-help books until they're eyes cross, and still not understand what motivates people, or what shapes lives, well enough to connect with readers/viewers.

Some people need a model of the universe which includes a spiritual dimension but does not depend on spiritual awareness.

Some writing students need to learn (a very little bit) of Astrology in order to master the Beat Sheet.


2) Why Astrology Does Not Work

I recently posted a link to an article mentioning astrology onto my facebook page ( http://facebook.com/jacqueline.lichtenberg ), and a comment popped up dripping scorn, insisting that Astrology Does Not Work -- and therefore, that's the end of the matter.

Well, of course astrology does not "work!" I never said it did.

But that doesn't mean it's not useful to an artist.

Why would such superstitious nonsense, such snake-oil-salesman fodder, such flimflammery as astrology be any kind of artistic tool?

Astronomy "works" -- it's real.

And astronomy is revealing some very important things about the universe and its structure. But it's still a work in progress.

Likewise, so is astrology a work in progress.

The advent of computers has helped both investigations.

So why is astrology being left in the dust?

Because Astrology has become (like Tarot) the tool of the grifters, snake-oil-salesmen, confidence men/women, bunko artists.

There is something in human nature that is absolutely convinced that knowing "the" future will fix everything that's wrong with a person's life.

That's one reason I love the new TV show FLASHFORWARD -- knowing a snatch of the future is more trouble than it's worth. The CATALYST moment for that show was the moment that almost everyone in the world experienced a flash of a future event in their personal life. It's also the concept. The economy of that is what makes it art.

The rest of the episodes deal with the following set of attributes of general human nature.

There is greed for power (over self, and others).

There is greed for free money (just send me $10 and I'll tell you your lucky day or what lottery numbers to play).

There is greed for love (free and otherwise). ($15 and you can make her love you)

There is greed for success. ($20 to learn where to move to get a job or better job).

There is greed for sex. ($25 for a charm to attract "women" (plural))

There is greed for good health (which is much harder to sneer at).

There is greed for alleviating anxiety.

There are 12 signs in the zodiac, each with a greed, and 10 "planets" or moving points, each with a greed. Greeds come in mixed shades and are sometimes hard to recognize as such.

Somewhere, symbolized by the placement of one or another point in your natal chart, you have a "greed point" -- almost everyone has something they can't get enough of; an emotional black hole, a neurotic need.

These "black holes" are also our greatest strengths.

In astrology, every sign and every planet and every "house" in a chart has a "positive" manifestation as a strength, and a "negative" manifestation, a malfunction, turning what is a shining WHITE HOLE into a bottomless BLACK HOLE (or vice versa) according to how the Soul incarnated to live that life uses those resources.

The Soul is here, on life's journey (the Hero's Journey) to transform the power represented by the natal chart points into positive or virtuous manifestations.

Power is very hard to handle. Each point in the natal chart describes a type of power available in this life, and how well the Soul has mastered handling that power in previous lives, and what is to learned in this life.

During the life, the planets continue to move, triggering off spurts of power from the stationary natal points. In other worse "live and learn." (I'm leaving out Solar Arcs and Progressions because I promised this wouldn't be technical. Use what you know, nevermind what I leave out.)

Some regard those spurts of power entering the life as "lessons" and others as "tests." Every religion has a different explanation for how life goes. If it's not a religion you grew up with, the explanations can seem confusing or ridiculous. But most religions seem to accept that there is some kind of purpose in life, some reason for our vicissitudes.

Astrologers look at life's patterns as just pure energy blasting into lives and either being handled by the Soul living the life, or not. And so sometimes the symbolism expresses itself as a vice (someone becomes an addict at a certain transit) or as a virtue (same transit, someone else becomes a doctor). Sometimes both doctor and addict result.

The virtues and vices of these symbols were described in detail by the famous astrology writer Grant Lewi, but that book is out of print.

Our shared instinct, assumption or neurosis is that if we could just fill that black hole UP once and for all, we could solve all our problems. After several failures at filling their black hole, most people are willing to listen to bunko artists who will "sell" them the promise or hope of filling that hole.

That's how bunko works. Every "mark" targeted in every scam (and the art in bunko is figuring which scam to run on which mark) is manipulated by the mark's greed.

If you have no greed in you, you are absolutely safe from ever being targeted as a "Mark" -- or if some beginner grifter tries a scam on you, you'll see right through it, or just turn and walk away because they can't get their hooks into your subconscious (where your greed lies).

That greed is just POWER entering your life at a time determined at birth when your life's clock began running. Think of a fire hose with water gushing out full strength. It takes a lot of strength, determination, cooperation with fellows, and discipline to keep that power pointed at the problem (fire). It could break the neighboring house's windows if it gets out of control.

"Well governed" = manifesting as the "virtue."

"Ill governed" = manifesting as the "vice."

It's the Soul that has to "govern" the power gushing into our lives.

But when it comes to our black holes, to our greedy spots, to our lazy spots, to our neuroses, to our simple one-step solution to all our problems by getting something for nothing, by finding the easy way out, by just saying you're sorry and starting over, by doing the sin planning to confess, or by offering the politically correct excuse "I'm sorry, Ma'am but I'm doing all I can," which simply means you refuse to expand your capabilities in order to do your job, when it comes to our black holes we are all absolutely convinced there's someone somewhere who knows the answer to all our problems.

And that's what the grifters are selling. Answers. The promise of filling the black hole.

Some grifters use astrology itself as the scam. Some use Tarot. Some use legitimate religion (or spinoff cults), or drugs, or "I'll make you a star," or self-publishing, or "post your script here for $50 and big production companies will read it," or whatever seems to fit the greed of the mark.

Each astrological symbol (planet, sign, house) represents a FORCE. It's just plain power.

Each soul acts as a conduit for the power they have at birth.

That life's pattern of power is described in the natal chart, and the bursts of power strewn throughout life are described via transits to those activated natal points.

The Soul funnels that plain, raw power into the world of manifestation, coloring and shaping it into objects, or events, via the four-step transformer process I described in detail in my 20 posts on the Tarot.

Those 20 posts describe the function of "Jacob's Ladder" -- the Wheatstone Bridge of the Spirit.

Here's the final post in the series, with links to work backwards through all 20.


The reason Astrology does not "work" is very simple.

Astrology is just a CLOCK. It tells you what time you were born, and thus what time it is "now."

Astrology can tell you that you have an appointment with the dentist, but it can not tell you that you will be there in time (or at all), or which dentist, or whether you have a cavity, or even whether you'll have any teeth left by the time the dentist appointment comes around.

Each astrological symbol and combination of symbols represents an infinite range of different possible manifestations.

Like the symbol X in algebra can have an assigned value, a calculated value, or a range of values - a different value in each equation - the astrological symbols are likewise "unknowns" until a specific Soul "lets them equal."

That variance in "value" does not make X useless in algebra.

That variance in "value" does not make Mars useless in astrology.

The astrological symbol does not contain any information about how any given set of energies WILL manifest.

Grifters try to convince you that they can tell you how energy will manifest in your life. Since astrology has been adopted as a grifter's tool, and since almost everyone who has fallen for that scam has been disappointed, therefore astrology has the reputation of "not working."

Well, it doesn't work (and can't and never was intended to "work") to foretell "the" future, or your future.

That's why it doesn't "work" -- it doesn't do what "they" say it will do.

But what it does do, it does superlatively, and everyone knows that in their heart of hearts just as anyone who's had to balance a checkbook knows how useful X is even in the simplest equation.

You don't need an astrologer to tell you what transit you're under or what it's good for.

Your BONES know. You feel it. Your soul knows.

You may not believe your soul when it yells at you, but you HEAR that still small voice inside repeating what the higher powers have sent you still small voice within when it tells you what the higher powers sent here to do. Or what you sent you here to do.

Everyone has this inner access. Everyone has this experience. We are all "the same." We have something inside that reads our astrology to us.

Astrology is about timing the events of life. Astrology is the beat-sheet of your life. You know those beats as well as you know the beats of your favorite TV show.

Astrology is the objective structure behind your life.

Your life has a genre, just like Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! genres.

Life has a plot and a story that belong to the genre of your life.

As Shakespear pointed out we are all actors on a stage with our exits and entrances, and we each play many parts, trying to fill our black holes until we discover that "filling" doesn't get rid of black holes.

Very spiritually advanced, incredibly "together" people don't have this black hole because they've learned that filling doesn't work.

But we don't write stories about them because they have no INTERNAL CONFLICT, which is an essential ingredient in a protagonist and antagonist (the two characters the story is "about"). Sometimes a guru or tsadik may be an ancillary character in a story, but not the protagonist or antagonist who must learn the lessons the guru already knows but can't teach.

Such spiritually advanced folks (there's maybe a few dozen in the world at any time) have spent lifetimes mastering every sort of energy coming into life from every possible direction, made all the mistakes we're currently making, and mastered it all. They're here only to show us that "it" (whatever it is that's bugging you) can in fact be mastered.

They can't do it for us. And they can't teach us. They can only assure us that it's possible and ignite aspiration. Meeting such a character can be the Catalyst Beat (that's a transit to a Node or a Solar Arc to a mid-point involving the Nodes usually).

And you won't find those extremely advanced folks practicing "Astrology" as a means for foretelling your future or solving your problems for you. More likely they'll be trying to convince you that you should stand on your own feet.

Because, you see, "Astrology" actually does NOT WORK.

It is not a tool for foretelling "the" future or even "a" future. It can't solve your problems for you any more than Tarot can.

Astrology can't tell you anything you don't already know. But it can show you what other people know that you can use to tell them stories.

Just like Tarot, Astrology does not tell us how we're different from each other, which is all that really interests us.

When you're just trying to live your life (as opposed to writing stories for general audiences) you're not looking for the connections among all things, and the general solution to life for everyone.

All you want is to solve your own life.

It makes a difference to you whether you get the job, or not; whether you live or die; whether you get cancer or not; whether you become crippled in a car accident or not.

Astrology though can't tell the difference among these manifestations which is the only difference that matters to us. And so Astrology "does not work."

An astrological natal chart can't distinguish male from female or living from dead. Massive fame, fortune and success have the same signature as chronic spectacular failure, dramatic improbable accidents, and a woebegone pillar to post existence.

3) The power of Astrology as a plotting tool

Astrology's inability to distinguish between what seems to us living folks as polar opposites is what makes it useful to a writer.

Another attribute that makes Astrology useful to writers is the deep, innate, instinctual, subliminal awareness every human being has of the "beats" of his own life being tapped out by the transits of planets to the natal points in his chart.

Astrology describes what we have in common with each other, and how come it seems like we're all such unique individuals yet at the same time we're really all the same.

The same, but different.

Sound familiar?

That's the call that all big budget film producers send out every day. "I want something the same as (whatever), but DIFFERENT."

What are they saying, really?

Human nature, as described by Astrological natal charts, is all "the same, but different."

That's why we are willing to pay for entertainment that's "the same, but different" -- why we want permutations and variations on a single theme until it bores us to death.

Our natal chart is the "beat sheet" of our lives. We see it in ourselves and we see it in others we know personally, or even just read about in celebrity magazines.

"That's life," is a philosophical shrug for a reason.

We choose friends and life-partners -- or shun others -- because we can see the "shape" of their life in the series of events we know they've lived through. We know how they've handled certain energies, and therefore predict they will continue to handle such challenges that way. Therefore, we either throw in our lot with them, or shun them.

Because "that's life."

Learning a little astrology can help clarify these half-intuited patterns behind "life."

Bad luck comes in threes. The outer planets often transit a given point once in your lifetime -- but do it 3 times (because of retrogradation which is an optical illusion visible only from Earth's surface.)

Everyone knows the principles of astrology even if they've never heard the word astrology.

If you've read a lot of biographies, you know all you need to know about astrology. Or not. Some people need to have it quantified, laid out mathematically, clear and concise.

Astrology assembles and organizes "life's lessons" into a drumbeat that all readers and viewers will recognize.

Waltzes have a rhythm. Tango has a rhythm. Fox Trot has a rhythm.

The backbone of music is rhythm. The backbone of dance, ice dancing, synchronized swimming, ballet, every artform in motion has a rhythm.

A Life has a rhythm.

Life in general has multitudinous rhythms simultaneously. 12 Signs in the zodiac, 10 moving points, 12 Houses in each individual chart. Multiply it out factorial. All of this going on simultaneously. It's white noise.

But as I've said I learned early, the writer is a performing artist, an ARTIST first and foremost.

The job of the artist is to discern patterns invisible to others and portray those patterns to the audience in such a way as to increase the audience's understanding of what they can not see for themselves.

The artist brings out Eternal Truths and particularizes them to the current life-situation of the audience.

A writer can take one natal chart, create a character to live that chart's most prominent life-lesson, and walk that character through learning that lesson in such a way that a reader who has not lived that lesson can understand the lesson.

The reader may know other people who have lived or are living that lesson -- or perhaps have only heard of such a person. The reader will recognize this lesson and the lesson's BEATS.

Sometimes, a reader will actually learn a life-lesson from a story because in a past life they learned that lesson by dying for it, and here they can acquire the lesson vicariously. Reading such a novel that makes such an impression can be a CATALYST beat for a character's life.

If the writer gets the astrology correct, the very largest possible audience will be able to relate to that lesson as something familiar.

And that's another reason not to "cast" a natal chart for your characters. To grab the widest audience, you need to write about "Mr. Everyman." He may have Sun in Leo (as Gene Roddenberry did), but your character might need to have characteristics of Moon in several signs to connect with a broad audience.

If you specify too much, fewer and fewer people will believe the character or see his actions as plausible. So you scatter hints that some readers will see as Moon in Cancer and others will see as Moon in Aquarius, etc. If you hint broadly enough, any given reader can interpret the hint to make the character real to themselves.

So some characteristics have to be loud and clear, and very specific. Those are the ones that the story is about, the lesson being learned, and the tools to use to learn that lesson. Everything else has to be kept vague enough to let all the readers in.

That's what Leonard Nimoy taught us (while we were interviewing for the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES!) that actors call "open texture."

Think of DANCE.

If you know how to fox-trot, and someone invites you to dance to a tune you've never heard before -- but you recognize the fox-trot rhythm and you know the steps, you can spin right out onto the floor with a strange dance partner and fox-trot away. Or Mambo. Or Samba.

The fox-trot is a rhythm. The tune, the band, the singer, the dance floor's polish, the colored-light ambiance, the acoustics, the open ballroom doors, the cold breeze, the red velvet curtains, and the bar tender are all there making the experience unique. But it's a pleasant experience because YOU KNOW THE RHYTHM and that rhythm is not broken.

"Not broken" means your partner does not step on your toes. It also means the writer doesn't step on the reader's toes.

So a book or a movie is an artistic rendition of LIFE with a recognizable rhythm and a unique ambiance. The same, but different.

The reader only sees the details of the ambiance. The writer knows the whole thing "works" as art because of (and only because of) the rhythm being exactly on beat.

There are a lot of rhythms in music and in life.

There is one life rhythm that the pioneer astrologer Grant Lewi singled out and became famous for revealing in the early 20th century.

His books Heaven Knows What and Astrology for the Millions made him ultra-famous outside Astrologer's circles because they can "prove" to people who flat out disbelieve in astrology that astrology is REAL (not that "it works" because it doesn't, but that it relates to your own personal life in a spooky-unique way only you yourself can recognize).

The ability to absorb the proof that Grant Lewi offers depends on how self-honest you are, how self-aware.

There are times in life when you protect yourself against these hard truths because they would destroy you. So don't go around trying to "prove" astrology to anyone. When it's time, they'll find it and their own use for it (which is minimal unless they're artists).

So the one life-rhythm that Grant Lewi wrote an entire book about is the Saturn Cycle. Read that book, you'll recognize it in your own life and in the lives of people you know.

You could write thirty novels where the protagonist lives through the lessons of the Saturn cycle, and never repeat yourself and never bore your readers. (one I wrote is titled UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER)

But there's also Uranus.

And as I've mentioned so many times on this blog, there's NEPTUNE.

Neptune transits produce all the variants on "falling in love" (and out of it) that is the foundation of the entire Romance Genre and all its subgenres (including my own favorite SFR).

Where you are in your Saturn cycle when a Neptune transit hits can determine the flow of that romance.

Then Uranus (freedom; Aquarius) can operate at the same time. You get the cheating-on-the-wife syndrome mixed with cheating-on-the-mistress, and the wife running around on the side. If you can jump double-dutch, you can write these novels, and right in the middle of the mess the Soul Mate turns up which of course doesn't solve the problem.

Soul Mate turning up can be a Catalyst Beat.

Request for Divorce can be a Catalyst Beat.

Spouse dying can be a Catalyst Beat.

Being deployed to Afghanistan 2 months before the baby is due can be a Catalyst Beat.

Catalyst Beat material is made from transits of the slow moving outer planets to the inner Natal Planets or angles. These are great, common events everyone knows and understands given a unique personal dimension by the character to whom they happen.

Think of the woman who was being deployed to Afghanistan but had a 2 year old, and her backup plan for childcare fell through so she refused to go with her unit -- and got arrested for it and made national headlines. Catalyst Beat for some, crushing blow for others.

If your novel is about the Lawyer who handles the case and becomes famous because of it, the catalyst beat in his life is when he first hears of the case. The "debate" beat is whether he should take it. The Break Into Two beat is accepting the case. The Fun And Games beat is putting the case together. The Break Into Three is the courtroom scene.

See? You can already see the movie.

Each thread of life's beats is governed by a particular planet and moves with its own rhythm. Mercury and Venus go around the Sun every year, Mars about every 1.88 years, Jupiter 12 years, Saturn 28, Uranus about 84 years plus or minus, and the Neptune and Pluto probably won't make it in your lifetime. Think about that. Hear the beats. That's the beat that governs the music of the spheres.

You can make up interesting rhythms, and make up new ones nobody ever heard of. You can create new rhythms, and they will "reach" audiences just the way any new musical rhythm will.

If you want to reach a very wide audience very quickly and get your byline memorized, use a tried and true, old as the hills, rhythm.

It's the beat, man, it's the beat.

It tells you what options suddenly open before a particular kind of character at what age.

The "character" is the life + the soul, and the lessons the soul has already learned from living this life and maybe previous ones (how Wise is your character?).

The beat of life is the astrological natal chart. The soul is the entire orchestra playing a NEW SONG to that beat, and with most souls some of the instruments are playing a tad flat (the black hole; the weakness).

So now we know what a beat-sheet is, and can see how Astrology describes (as many other disciplines describe) the beat-sheet of a character's life.

We know that the "beat" underlying a story has to be recognizable and familiar (i.e. "the same") to the reader while the tune and the instruments can be experimental and unique, totally unfamiliar to the reader (i.e. "but different").

Or the tune and instruments may also be "familiar" (i.e. belonging to a certain well defined genre such as Romance, Horror, SF, Adventure, Western).

Characters fall into cliche's but are usable with a twist. The Hero. The Grifter. The Town Drunk. The Techie. The Wastrel. The Guru.

These become archetypes -- blank templates into which the writer pours original distinguishing characteristics.

Creating these variations is an art in itself.

4) A Question about identifying, concocting and placing the CATALYST (Blake Snyder's term) or Inciting Incident (general screenwriting term) or Springboard (TV writing term) from the beat sheet into your story.

OK, now to the point of this post.

The writer asked me how to concoct the CATALYST for a story.

How do you know what it is and where it happens in the character's life and where to put it in your story?

We know it happens on page 12 of a 110 page screenplay.

We know what it does. It changes EVERYTHING in that character's life that the character thought could never change.

The cheap-cheesy way to do it is to make the catalyst a threat to the protag's security. Some genres require that. "Women in Jeopardy" for example.

If you know enough technical astrology, you can see why certain genres become popular with certain age-groups at certain times. People gravitate toward permutations and combinations of themes because of the real life issues highlighted by their natal chart and transits, whether their own soul is living that issue or not. Their contemporaries are, and that makes it a concern.

I did a post on how Pluto has influenced mass tastes over generations. It's here:
And this one is the sequel misnamed - it's actually part 7

The general solution to finding the Catalyst Beat is that the catalyst is the first contact the protagonist has with the antagonist, the first moment the CONFLICT that will be resolved at THE END emerges and is defined for the audience/readership.

In ROMANCE, it's the point at which the two who will fall in love first meet or become aware of each other.

We all know that can result in love-at-first-sight, or hate-at-first-sight or even one or the other or both being totally oblivious.

In Mystery, it's the moment the first corpse is discovered. In open form Mystery, that's after the murder is watched by the reader/viewer. In closed form, that's the opening scene or chapter. We get a little introduction of the Detective whose problem it will be, sketching why this particular crime might mean something to him/her, then BOOM corpse-call.

As I've detailed in a number of other posts here on craft, you find the BEGINNING by finding the point at which the two forces that will conflict to a resolution in this story first come in contact.

That contact is the inciting incident, the Catalyst, the Springboard, the event which subsequently CAUSES everything else that HAPPENS. (things that happen are the plot; things characters learn because of what happens is the story; "because" provides motivation.

Here's where art gets involved.

In a short story, or even a TV show premise, the catalyst can take place BEFORE the story begins.

Take the TV series BURN NOTICE, and listen to the premise stated before each show. The main protagonist is a spy who has been "burned" - his records have been burned; he has no identity, no job, no money, and only whatever friends are still speaking to him to rely on. He does whatever job comes his way, even if it involves helping his mother's friends.

The show is about him trying to get reinstated.

The Catalyst is that he was burned. We never see that happen.

In the Action genre (which editors insist Sf is part of, but we all know it's not), the writer is supposed to open page 1 on ACTION, dive right into the middle of the story.

A good example of opening on combat as the CATALYST for a story is Marion Zimmer Bradley's Spellsword of Darkover which opens on a sword fight in which the protag's side is defeated and he, last standing, runs away -- the rest of the book is about dealing with the shame of that act of fleeing the battlefield.

More usually the action starts after the inciting incident, after the catalyst. The usual definition of catalyst is that NOTHING IS HAPPENING -- all's quiet on the western front -- silence, life is stagnated. BOOM something enters the life from outside, and catalyzes or incites the protagonist to action. In a film, we get 12 minutes (screenplays are rated at 1 page per minute of viewing) to figure out who the protag is and what their problem is (where the black hole in that character resides). Then on page 12 the Catalyst arrives.

I think the reason Snyder used the term CATALYST for this beat is that a catalyst does not participate in the chemical reaction but only provides the environment which makes the reaction inevitable.

So a "catalyst beat" can involve a character or event that really is "outside" the character's life or personality. The catalyst may not be affected by the protagonist's "reaction." It's a broader definition from "Inciting Incident." "Incident" however does imply that it is an event which is off the plot-line.

So after the catalysis, events are exploding, and the protagonist has to scramble to figure out what's going on while trying not to get killed by it.

In the modern Romance, the catalyst can happen before the opening, and the two already can know each other in some context. Now another catalyst drives the relationship in a new direction.

The catalyst should "incite" the protagonist to a) debate b) consult someone (B-story) c) launch into half-assed attempts to cope d) get scragged by the bad guys e) learn his lesson f) take correct definitive action and g) win (or not).

So the catalyst's first effect is to make the protag DOUBT what he knows to be true, what he has rested his whole life on with total tranquility (my Dad will never get old; my Dad doesn't have Alzheimer's).

The story is about re-orienting the character to his new world. Once that's done the story is over.

OK, which catalyst can blast which protag out of which mire in life?

How do you concoct an event that will affect THIS CHARACTER by addressing THAT conflict?

Remember, the Character is the Soul -- all the things that make him/her different from everyone else.

The plot is the NATAL CHART, the beat sheet of his life, that makes his experience of life the same as everyone else's.

Everyone in your readership or audience KNOWS the rhythm of the life-lesson this protag is going to fight his way through.

If you use the Saturn rhythm to teach a Neptune lesson, nobody will believe your story. It'll be tagged implausible.

If you concoct a Neptune (Romance) driven opening event to a Uranus (science) driven plot resolution, nobody will believe the story. That's not a "twist" but a violation of the fox-trot rhythm.

So you have to figure out which life-lesson you're teaching this character, and what the corresponding symbolism is. (Many writers can't do this consciously. But you can program your subconscious to concoct stories with this shape by consciously studying these disciplines and doing writing exercises using them. That's why I always suggest practicing on material that has no commercial value.)

So as you're outlining your story, you can pick from the menu of Vices or Virtues, the plethora of different sorts of manifestations of that planet's symbolism during such-and-so a transit.

But you can't pick at random. You have to take into account the Soul of this character -- what does the Soul know, what has the Soul mastered already, what lesson is this Soul resisting hard?

You can have 2 manifestations of the same transit at once.

Take Pluto transits conjunct the Natal Sun. The protag might be undergoing sanctification as a priest (I'm thinking of Katherine Kurtz's short story The Priesting of Arrilan), and at the same time be attacked violently because of some long-buried crime he committed (or sexual indiscretion).

The question to ask yourself when concocting the plot of a story you have had "an idea" for is, "I know this Soul - so what is the very WORST thing that can happen to him/her?"

Think of the most diabolical, test to destruction, event, and hurl that at the character as a Catalyst. Then find something even worse for the next event.

Find the character's "black hole" -- his weakness, his greed, his need, his torment. Find the Catalyst that awakens that greed and incites the character to reach out and grasp that hope. Once he's hooked, pull him through the story one agonizing inch at a time.

Remember, you can't "fill" a black hole. The life-lesson the protag undergoes has to turn that black hole "vice" (greed for example) into a white hole "virtue" (generosity for example).

The protag has to learn to take the incoming raw energy his natal chart diagrams and "ground it" in reality, create with it, make the world a better place with it.

So, to find a set of classic stories in archetypal form read Grant Lewi's classic pair of books, HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT and ASTROLOGY FOR THE MILLIONS which outline the natal resources typical of various sun/moon combinations, and how the Saturn cycle (and Uranus cycle) works the same for everyone, but always looks different depending on the Sun/Moon blend.

Heaven Knows What (Llewellyn's Popular Astrology Series)

But apparently ASTROLOGY FOR THE MILLIONS (with the Saturn cycle described) is out of print right now. So here's Amazon's Grant Lewi page

Grant Lewi's books

You won't find the treasure-trove of usable writer's plots and life-beat-sheets in just any other Astrology books, but many of them do have useful summaries. Linda Goodman's Sun Signs is another good one.

I'm citing Grant Lewi because his explanations are very SIMPLE and aimed at non-astrologers. I wouldn't want you to have to learn astrology in order to do this simple bit of writing craft.

Also Grant Lewi wasn't a grifter selling astrology as snake-oil. His work, is, however maddeningly sexist and infuriatingly obsolete. For a writer those two traits can be a big plus!

Astrology is the beat sheet of life.

Grant Lewi's work shows how that can be useful to a writer in a unique way (I own a lot of astrology books. Lewi is cited by many but paralleled by none). Noel Tyl's work is way too technical for this.

Astrology can tell you what the lessons to be learned are, and at what age those lessons will be driven home by events (i.e. what the timing of a catalyst event for a particular person would be and what sort of energy would carry that event into the life's pattern).

Mark Schulman's Karmic Astrology series gives very neat life-plots that will ring-true to any reader who walks a mile in your character's moccasins. My favorite is The Moon's Nodes and Reincarnation:

Karmic Astrology, Volume 1: The Moon's Nodes and Reincarnation (Karmic Astrology)

It doesn't matter whether you "believe" in astrology or any of this. The summations of life-stories have been compiled over thousands of years, sifted, refined, distilled into patterns, archetypes, that any reader of your books will instantly RECOGNIZE as "real" -- and therefore be able to suspend disbelief about the rest of your fantasy world.

Using astrology in this "off the nose" way provides verisimilitude, yes, and plausibility. In professorial circles that's called an "objective correlative" -- a character the reader can become, identify with, and aspire to be, pretend to be, or really enjoy hating.

Using astrology this way allows your reader to experience what it feels like to have their black-hole shrunk if not vanquished. Of course, as I've said many times, astrology isn't the only study that can help a writer create this effect. In fact, it's likely the least used of all such tools. But there's a reason there are so many astrologers and Tarot readers in Hollywood.

Astrology and Tarot are about the art of life, not life itself. It's about the art of living, not living itself.

Astrology can not tell you what the events of a life actually are or how any given type of person will respond to a given challenge.

For example: some people respond to a given 6th House transit by attaining employment success, and others respond to the same transit by becoming critically ill. Still others respond by experiencing both these events simultaneously (they make great protagonists; Harry Dresden of THE DRESDEN FILES is that kind of character).

The part of your destiny that matters to you is not written in the stars. The part of the story that engages the reader is not written in the stars.

The part that is written in the stars is the rhythm, rhyme and REASON.

The part that's written in the stars is the part the reader (just like real people living real lives) will never know is there (if you do it right). The part that's written in the stars is the poetry. It makes your bone marrow shiver to apprehend this simple fact.

People who know Astrology is bunkum know that bad luck comes in threes, and that age 29 is a bear to live through. They know that Lady Luck (Jupiter) is fickle. They know that people commit crimes of passion (Mars and Pluto) and it's a once-in-a-lifetime event. But of course, astrology is bunk and if you use the word, everything you say is invalidated. Still they know the happiest year of their life (Solar Arc Venus to the Natal Sun -- the movie DIRTY DANCING) was unique.

Do you as a writer really want your readers to know what astrology is really good for?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Thank you so much!

    The funny thing is I'm doing it right, but I didn't know why or how and it didn't all filter through and make sense.

    If I could cast my subconscious mind and conscious mind as characters, my subconscious would be smacking my conscious mind upside the head and yelling, "Do this, that, and the other thing!" And my conscious mind would have her finger stuck up her mind, going, "Huh?"

  2. Astrology is characterized as, "the divination of the alleged impacts of the stars and planets on human undertakings and earthly occasions by their positions and perspectives." There's a well-known axiom that things are "written in the stars," and for adherents of astrology,

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