In my book Write Faster with Tarot – Creating Characters, I borrowed an exercise from Corrine Kenner’s Tarot for Writers. In the book, Kenner suggests you use the tarot to create physical descriptions for your characters.
Most of the time I already have some idea of how the character looks. I’m sure you do too.
Perhaps my character is short and muscular with dusky skin and a hesitant smile. Curly closed-cropped black hair and sullen brown eyes.
Or maybe he has golden-brown hair and small blue-grey eyes, a large faded tattoo of a bleeding heart on his left calf.
Or perhaps she is tall and spare with sallow skin and a thin, cruel mouth. Unruly, shoulder-length black hair and pale green eyes.
Sometimes that’s all you need. In my readings I’ve noticed that authors vary as to how much physical description they use. Some like to go into great detail while others provide only a cursory description, mostly revolving around hair and eye color, height and weight and general appearance.
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
There’s no right or wrong way in which to address physical description. Like so much in writing it’s a matter of preference. I like to know enough about my character’s physical description so that I can picture him or her in my mind. As a matter of fact I like to find images on the web that match what I have in mind for my character’s physical appearance.
I include these images in the files I keep for my characters and find them very useful. If nothing else, I would suggest at the very least you write down the eye and hair color of your characters. You don’t want a character in Chapter One to have green eyes and then in Chapter Thirteen to suddenly have blue eyes. Unless there’s a reason for the change and that change should be indicated in the story.
When using a tarot card to generate ideas for the physical description of your character you can deliberately choose a card from your deck or randomly choose one. Sometimes I’ll riffle through my deck and if a card jumps out at me I’ll use that. Sometimes I like the surprise of just randomly choosing a card.
For this post, I’m going to randomly choose a card from my Rider-Waite Deck. Once I’ve done that I’m going to select that same card from my Night Sun Tarot Deck.
I’m using both because I want to work with a more traditional deck like the Rider-Waite but I also want to see what I can come up with using the Night Sun Tarot. It’s a visually exciting and colorful deck and since the genre for my NaNo is a futuristic dystopian I’m hoping the Night Sun Tarot deck will provide some visually evocative images for me to play around with.
One of the characters I envision for my NaNo novel is the leader of a religious cult. I know he’s male and I’m going for someone in their late 40s or early 50s.
First I’ll randomly chose a card from my Rider-Waite deck.
King of Cups – Rider-Waite
Next I’ll select the King of Cups from the Night Sun Tarot.
King of Cups – Black Sun Tarot
Both cards show a man sitting on a throne surrounded by water. Both hold cups but on the Rider Waite card the King of Cups has ships in the background. In the Night Sun tarot, there are lilies. The king in the Rider-Waite deck is dressed in voluminous robes. The king in the Night Sun tarot wears plain white robes.
I’ve decided that the cult leader is going to resemble the king in the Night Sun tarot. Bald-headed and tall and thin with pale skin and black eyes. Although he disdains the kingly robe and crown of the king in the Rider-Waite deck, he secretly sees himself dressed so. That is, he pretends to be a pious leader, humble and self-sacrificing but in reality he has a huge ego and in private revels in luxuriousness and sensuality.
Often when I use the cards to describe a character I also wind up discussing the psychological aspects of the character also.
Now you try. Either deliberately or randomly choose a card from your tarot deck and see if you can come up with a physical description.
If the first card you choose doesn’t work, choose another. There are no rules when it comes to doing this. Keep trying until something clicks.
Please feel free to share your discoveries or ask questions in the comments.
Day 5 – The Archetypes Spread