Tools of the Telling Trade: Zodiac Signs

Eastern and Western Zodiac

Most people have seen or at least heard of horoscopes, which use astrological signs going either by the month or the year.  I posts the only picture I could find that had the two side by side, but I just noticed it’s written in Spanish.  Why do most of my Google and Yahoo image searches end up bringing back a lot more Spanish than English lately?  At least the point is getting across here.

Anyway, these are ways to ‘predict’ a great range than other fortune telling systems.  Part of this is because it has a more general focus than on specific situation like runes and tarot.  With the latter, you ask a question and use that to guide you through deciphering the answers.  Zodiac is used more to give an overview of your day and ‘explain’ parts of your personality.  For example, Aries are supposed to be leaders, have tempers, be passionate, and have more of an interest in starting projects than finishing.  Those born in the year of the monkey are witty, intelligent, mischievous, and can get bored very easily.  That’s what I’m supposed to be, which isn’t telling my future so much as giving an explanation about me.

Zodiac is a challenge for writing when it comes to fantasy.  The Western symbols are connected to astrological symbols, so you can’t use them if you aren’t on Earth.  Same goes for any science fiction that travels to another galaxy or stories that take place prior to these symbols being created.  With Eastern astrology, you run into a problem because it stems from a specific culture.  If that doesn’t exist then you can’t use it.  Other genres aren’t much better since you need to know what you’re talking about at least a basic level.  Last thing you want to do is have someone claim they’re a Libra Rabbit, but a reader does the research to find that they’re really a Sagittarius Rooster.  Trust me, people take these things seriously.

The answer for fantasy authors comes down to making a variation of them for your world, so here are some tips:

  1. The Eastern Astrology system divides up the year.  You might have to create a basic calendar for months and amount of days.  Seasons can help a bit, but they aren’t necessary outside of details.  After all that, you can choose as many symbols as you can using a variety of sources.  For Windemere, I went with 11 Gods and Goddesses that had main purposes and a connection to the Zodiac.
  2. Western Astrology systems switch by the year, so you need to think up a slight history and calendar.  This might be a little easier since you choose the symbols first and then put them in order.  A more difficult trick here is deciding on what they’ll be.  You can go with animals found in the world, but other options are flowers, gems, and whatever else you can think of.
  3. Even if you don’t mention it in the books, pick out the symbols for your characters.  It requires choosing a birthday, which is at the core of these systems.  Best to have at least one character on each symbol too.  The reason is because this will help you figure out the personality traits that are connected to each one.

You don’t really see this one in fantasy as often, but it can be a useful part of world building.  If anything, it can make you stand out since non-Earth stories don’t usually go for zodiac systems.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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30 Responses to Tools of the Telling Trade: Zodiac Signs

  1. Part of the problem is some will always know more than the author about the system. When you invent a system it seems safer. Oh, and people like monkeys. I was born in the year of the rat.

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  2. What a terrific idea, Charles. This never occurred to me and I’m going to try it on the next book (Ned Tranes)

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  3. L. Marie says:

    “Zodiac is a challenge for writing when it comes to fantasy. The Western symbols are connected to astrological symbols, so you can’t use them if you aren’t on Earth.”–Excellent point! So true! Although making up constellations can be challenging, it makes sense to do so. (And it’s fun.)

    I wonder if this is why some authors are now anchoring their fantasies in known places within the history of our world. Less world building, I guess. Because what you brought up in this post is really important to note.

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    • I tried doing constellations for Windemere, but ended up creating a group of 11 gods that covered it. I might make it that they each have a star or something in the sky.

      I’m curious about that world building too. It could be that people are taking a path that has more familiarity. Audiences have gotten a little more finicky if you go by social media. This can make it easier to create a bridge.

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      • L. Marie says:

        The only concern I have about that is based on what I’ve seen: people wanting fantasy to be more realistic because they don’t like made up worlds and think everything should be set in our world. Don’t get me wrong. I love many urban fantasy series set in our world. But I love made up worlds too. I get irritated when people want to take the fantasy out of fantasy.

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      • People really are pushing for more less fantasy in fantasy. Low magic worlds are another thing that has gotten popular in the last decade. It’s closer to medieval fiction than fantasy at times.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    Very true, Charles.

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  5. Very interesting post, also I found the comments spot on too. I have seen more astrology in fantasy than runes though, which is interesting, maybe I just read different fantasy authors.

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  6. Reblogged this on DSM Publications and commented:
    Check out this helpful post from the Legends of Windemere blog on the use of zodiac signs in storytelling.

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  7. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me to develop a zodiac system. Well done, Charles. Story-building at its best!

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    • Thanks. It was something I came up with in college when I had a slow weekend. There was a story that involved going to temples to free gods who could defeat a demon. I needed a theme and ended up with a zodiac system, vague calendar, and holidays for Windemere. Though I’m not bright enough to remember to use them very often. It’s amazing how hard it is to insert month names into conversations without it feeling forced.

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  8. In one of my early novels, The Magister’s Mask, it was in a world with five moons visible in the sky. People came to associate each moon with an aspect of human nature and they would make forecasts depending on which moons were waxing and waning. It was pretty fun, if I do say so myself.

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    • I actually gave Windemere four moons, but associated each one with a primordial deity. They were the kingdoms for each one before they vanished. Never thought about going zodiac though. Really cool and unique idea there.

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  9. As you say, this one would be more difficult to make work in a fictional world. It’s doable though,.

    If you’re interested: I’m a Scorpio, born on a day when the Moon was in Cancer, in the year of the rat. So my Sun sign is Scorpio, my Moon sign is Cancer, and my Chinese Zodiac sign is the rat.

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  10. noelleg44 says:

    Interesting post, Charles. I’m not much into the Zodiac, although I’ve found that many characteristics for Virgo describe me. My husband and daughter are Libras. My son another Virgo – we clash!

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