As described in Lesson 2 from the Learn Tarot website, “the 22 cards of the major arcana are the heart of the deck. Each of these cards symbolizes some universal aspect of human experience. They represent the archetypes – consistent, directing patterns of influence that are an inherent part of human nature.”
This is a very applicable definition when it comes to using the Major Arcana for brainstorming and writing. When I’m brainstorming and/or plotting, I like to use the Major Arcana for bigger ideas such as themes and plots. That’s not to say you can’t use the Major Arcana for creating characters or for writing scenes. The entire tarot is at your disposal for whatever uses you want. There are no rules when it comes to using the tarot for writing. Always keep that in mind. I’m only offering suggestions and some guidelines to help you, but ultimately it’s up to you how you want to use the cards.
I’m going to only use the Major Arcana to plot out a story using the Three-Act Structure exercise from Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner. The Three Act Structure is the basic element for most stories, movies and plays. You have Act I, which is the beginning of your story, Act II, which is the middle and Act III which is the end. Television scripts often have four acts in order to account for commercial breaks. There are some stories that have five or even nine acts. But for this exercise, and because it allows me to use a three-card spread, I’ll focus on three acts.
Here are the three cards I drew. (Again, I only used the Major Arcana cards). The cards are all from the Tarot of Marseilles. The genre I’ve chosen is a mystery with paranormal elements.
For Act I drew La Force or what is known as the Strength Card in a traditional deck. Act I introduces the major characters, the setting and the plot. How about a woman who is the head of a multi-national corporation. It’s a company she started on her own, basically from nothing, and built it into the billion dollar company it is today. She’s now in her mid-fifties, a strong, vibrant woman with a loving husband and three grown children. The setting is going to be Atlanta, mainly because I just finished watching The Weather Channel and it’s based in Atlanta. My character believes that life could not be better for her but, of course, since it’s fiction and I have to be mean to her, we know that’s not going to last.
For Act II, La Papesse, (the Female Pope), or what is usually known as the High Priestess. Act II develops the story, throwing obstacles and conflict at the characters. It’s the longest part of your story, accounting for 50% of the story. It’s a long haul so you’re going to have to have a lot of stuff going on to keep your reader interested. Since I’m only brainstorming here, I’m not going to worry too much about the exact details of what’s going to happen in Act II. I’m just trying to come up with some ideas. I’m drawing a blank just looking at the card on its own so I’m going to look at some of the meanings associated with the card to see if I can come up with some ideas. Writing with the Tarot has an excellent guide to the meanings of each of the cards and they’re geared specifically for use with writing.
The inciting incident, the plot point that throws my heroine into the world of Act II, is the sudden and mysterious deaths of her husband and her children. This throws my character into a tailspin, of course. She has all this money and all this power but it wasn’t able to prevent the deaths of those she loves. She is devastated, having been told that her family perished in a plane accident. (Her husband was flying their private plane back to Atlanta from Florida and all three of the women’s children were also on board.) My heroine blames herself, she sinks into a depression, she doesn’t care about her company. But then she receives a mysterious message. It wasn’t an accident that killed her family. It was a deliberate act and it may have been perpetuated by an ancient society of powerful women who, for reasons yet to be discerned, killed the heroine’s family. Now the search is on not only for the killers but the reason why.
Act III is, or course, the resolution. Now, some people say you should know the end of your story before you write it, while others prefer writing the story to discover the ending. I’m more on the side of at least having some idea how the story ends, but not necessarily knowing how I get to that end. And sometimes, in the course of writing, the ending changes.
For Act III I pulled the Major Arcana card the Emperor. The Emperor usually represents power, control, dominion, order, etc. Reversed it can mean tyranny, abuse or misuse of power, war, etc. Maybe the heroine succeeds in thwarting some bid for control of the world by this cabal of mysterious women. Or maybe she winds up becoming the leader of the cabal. At the moment, it’s still pretty open. But at least I have some goal to shoot for.
As I stated at the beginning, you can use any of the tarot cards for any aspect of your writing. Plotting, character creation, setting, themes, etc. Some kinds, whether the court cards, the Minor Arcana or the Major Arcana may prove more useful than others. The important thing is to leave yourself open to any and all possibilities.