Using Tarot for NaNo Prep #21 – Write Faster with Tarot Ebooks

Writing & Tarot Characters CoverFor the remainder of this last week before NaNoWriMo starts, I’ll share some of the tarot and writing exercises you’ll find in my two new ebooks, Write Faster with Tarot – Creating Characters and Write Faster with Tarot- Structuring Plots.

Both books are based on workshops I’ve given in the past using Tarot and writing. If you’ll still having trouble coming up with ideas, characters or a plot for your NaNo novel these books and exercises might just be what you need.

In this post, I’ll explain how to use the Tarot for your writing.

First off you absolutely do not have to know all about Tarot, be a professional Tarot reader or spend months learning Tarot. You can use the cards to help with your writing right this minute. All you’ll need is a Tarot deck or a Tarot deck app. Now, granted, the apps tend to be cheaper than actual decks, but I think the more you actually handle the cards the more useful they’ll be to you. Creativity often involves using more than just your mind.

The Tarot is simply nothing more than a deck of cards, so don’t worry about all that esoteric, whoo-hoo stuff that often surrounds Tarot. That stuff is fun and enlightening and you can learn about it the plethora of books and websites available, but you don’t need to know it to use if for your writing. The major difference between the Tarot and a regular deck of playing cards is basically the pictures on the Tarot cards, which will help you generate ideas for your characters, plots and stories.

Here are images of some of the most famous paintings in the world.

The ScreamThe PearlHer WorldThe Old Couple

I’m sure you’ve seen some most of them before. Consider them for a moment and register what you feel as you look at them. Even better, jot down some of your impressions. Now, let yourself imagine one of these paintings as either a character in a novel or a setting or a scene.

I bet that was really easy, wasn’t it?

Now look at these images. Don’t worry about what the words on the cards or the numbers. Just look at the pictures.

Strength3 of CupsKing of Pentacles10 of Wands

Do the same thing you did with the paintings. Imagine the people or the situations as characters or scenes for a story.

What did you come up?

That’s all you have to do to use the tarot for writing. Look at the pictures and write down what you see or feel.

That’s not to say, however, that you can’t make use of the “meanings” of the cards. (I put meanings in parenthesis because, although each card does have a core, basic meaning, there are a lot of them for each card).Having studied Tarot for quite some time, I am very familiar with the meanings, but I also find myself looking them up.

But, again, you don’t have to have memorized the meanings of the cards in order to use them for writing.

Let’s say you want to come up with a character for a story. You use your app or your deck and pull this card.

Page of Swords

This is the Page of Swords. But don’t worry about that for the moment. Just look at the card. What do you see? A young man (or woman) standing on a hilltop holding a sword upright. Look closer. Notice the wind blowing his or her hair. The clouds billowing behind. The way he or she is standing. As if preparing to defend or attack.

What kind of a character does this suggest?

Someone young, perhaps? A person of integrity? A warrior type? Someone who’s willing to defend something important to her?

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

I’ll talk more about tarot and writing for NaNo the rest of this week.

However, if you want to get started now on using tarot for your writing, please check out my two ebooks.

Writing & Tarot Characters CoverWriting & Tarot Plotting Cover

Write Faster with Tarot – Creating Characters – Available now at Amazon. Coming soon to other sales outlets

Write Faster with Tarot – Structuring Plots – Available now at Amazon. Coming soon to other sales outlets.

See you tomorrow!


NaNoWriMo Prep #14 – Save the Cat

You’vSave the Cate probably noticed that in talking about plot I’ve focused on books about writing screenplays. There’s a reason for that. I’ve found that books on writing screenplay are usually the best when it comes to talking about structure. There are, of course, books that focus on structuring plots for novels and short stories but I tend to use the screenplay writing books more as a rule.

My last post on structuring your NaNoWriMo novel will focus on Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat.

This is one of my favorite books on writing. Not only is it extremely useful for structuring and/or plotting your novel, but its written in an engaging style.

Blake Snyder went on to write two more companions books and I have no doubt he would have written even more but, tragically, he died unexpectedly in 2009.

However, we still have his books and his wisdom and his website is still active and on it you will find a lot of information about Blake Snyder, his books and his theories about writing.

Blake called his first book Save the Cat because his theory that one way to cause the audience to sympathize with the hero is show him or her doing something nice, like saving a cat.

But there’s more to Snyder’s book than just that. In his book he emphasizes the importance of structure. He created what he called the Beat Sheet or BS2. It is comprised of 15 beats or plot points.

I’m going to continue using the movie Avatar as an example because I think it’s interesting to see how different plot schemas can be applied to the same move and that some of the stages from those different plot structures overlap.

Opening Image – A scene that suggests the tone, imagery, genre, and or mood of the story.  A kind of snapshot of what the main character and we, the reader/audience, are in store for.

Avatar – We meet the hero, Jake Scully. He’s a disabled veteran who journeys to a distant planet in order to “pilot” his deceased twin brother’s avatar.

Set-Up – This scene expands on the opening image. It presents more of the character’s world and what is missing in his or her life.

Avatar – Jake meets the scientists who run the avatar program. He doesn’t fit in with them. He also meets the other soldiers stationed on the planet. He doesn’t fit in with them either. That’s his problem. He doesn’t fit in.

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-Up) – What the story is about. Usually it’s spoken to the main character by another character. Something similar to “You know what your problem is, bud?” At this point in the story, however, either the main character isn’t aware she has a problem or figures there’s not much she can do about it. The point of the story is to show that’s not the case.

Avatar – The idea of belonging. Of being a part of something larger than yourself. Of being connected to others. We see this theme being reiterated in the explanation of the Na’Vi’s connection to the planet.

Catalyst – This is the scene where life as the character has known it changes. The world before, the Ordinary World, is no more. Change is coming.

Jake and QuaritchAvatar – Even though Jake is “driving an avatar” and living on Pandora, he’s still a former Marine who’s reporting to his superior, Quaritch. It’s not, however, until he’s separated from the others and is discovered by Neytiri, a Na’Vi female, and is taken back to Hometree, where the Na’Vi live, that the world changes for Jake.

Debate: – Because change is often scary this is a step where the main character has doubts about the journey he must take. Can I do this? Am I up to the challenge. Do I have what it takes.

Avatar – This occurs in the movie when Jake is learning about the Na’Vi and some of them question whether he has what it takes to be one of them.

Break into Two (Choosing Act Two) – One thing to keep in mind about these steps and, for that matter, any steps or stages in any plotting structure is that although some have to happen at certain times, nothing is written in stone. You can rearrange, delete or add in your steps. You’re the writer. It’s your story. Write it the way you want.

In the Break Into Two beat the main character decides to take the journey. He or she has left the “Thesis” world and has entered the “Anti-thesis” of the Special World.

Avatar – Jake is moving back and from between the world of the Na’Vi and his avatar body and the world of the humans and the corporation they work for.

B Story –The B story runs underneath the main story. You can use this story to discuss the story’s theme. It’s also, usually, the love story or the story that involves the relationship between the main character and someone (not necessarily a love interest) who is important to them.

Avatar – The relationship (and burgeoning love affair) between Jake and Neytiri is Avatar’s B story. It can also been seen as the growing trust between Jake and the other scientists, especially with Dr. Augustine.

Avatar 1The Promise of the Premise – This is also called Fun & Games. This is where whatever the story promises the reader/audience, whether its action, adventure, mystery, romance, sex, scary stuff, etc. is fully explored. The main character explores this world with all the abandon of a child at play, and the audience/reader explores it with him.

Avatar – We watch Jake learn about the Na’Vi and their world. He learns to hunt and, most exciting, to fly a banshee. The audience came to the movie wanting to see what living on another planet with another species would be like. The movie delivers on its premise. It’s important you do the same in your story.

If you’re writing a mystery, you’d better have a mystery for the sleuth to solve. A romance, we’d better see the fun and the heartache of falling in love. A dystopian novel should show us what exactly has gone wrong with the world and what the characters are going to do about it. If anything.

Midpoint – Snyder has a theory about the midpoint which I find interesting. At this point in the story either everything is going “great” or everything is “awful.” If it’s going great, we know that more than likely that other shoe is going to drop and BAM!, the proverbial caca hits the fan. If it’s going awful, well, the character obviously needs to do something to make it better because at this point he is only halfway home.

In most cases, I think you’ll find that at this point in the story, things appear to be going “great”. The hero has learned the rules of the Special World and it’s not as bad as he thought. He’s feeling really super and decides that it’s going to be nothing but clear skies and smooth sailing from here on in. Yeah, right.

Avatar – Jake is not only made a member of the Na’Vi, but he and Neytiri solidify their love  and she tells Jake they are mated for life. Things are going great. But…..

Bad Guys Close In – Whether the midpoint moment was great or awful it doesn’t matter because the bad guys have decided that, for whatever reason, the main character and his/her allies are a threat.

Avatar – In Avatar, the bad guys literally close in. Jake and Neytiri are sleeping underneath the sacred tree where they made love. Netryi is wakened by the sound of the humans advancing on the grove with soldiers and bulldozers.

All is Lost – This is the moment when the main character realizes that it’s about to get serious. As a result of those bad guys having closed in, he or she is about to lose everything and things look even more difficult and impossible than before. In this beat, also, someone or something dies. It can be a physical death or an emotional death.

Avatar – Because the human corporation wants to conduct mining operations underneath the Na’vi’s home, Quaritch orders his soldiers to bring down Hometree, which results in the death of not only Neytiri’s father but hundreds of Na’Vi. Jake also reveals that he started out as a spy for the humans and, as a result, is rejected by Neytiri and the other Na’Vi.

Avatar Dark Night of SoulDark Night of the Soul – The main character hits rock bottom and wallows in hopelessness. Dreams, goals, love, the promise of happiness, are gone.

Avatar – Jake literally wanders alone through an ash-shrouded landscape after the destruction of Hometree and the displacement of the Na’vi. He has no place to go. He’s considered a traitor to the humans and a traitor to the Na’Vi. He has no place where he belongs. Remember, the theme of Avatar is about finding someplace to belong and to connect. Jake no longer has that.

Break into Three (Choosing Act Three) – But all is not lost or else the story would stop and the reader/ audience would be left feeling pretty darn depressed. And, also, this is why your main character is your main character. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. Based on a new idea, new inspiration or a last minute kick in the pants, the main character chooses to try again.

Avatar 2Avatar – Jake chooses to tame the Toruk, a dragon-like creature both feared and honored by the Na’Vi. He accomplishes this and flies to where the Na’Vi have gathered, the Tree of Souls. He proves to them he is on their side, he reconnects with them all, including his beloved Netyri, and he marshals all the Na’vi clans to fight against the humans, who are on their way to destroy the Tree of Souls, the heart of the Na’Vi culture.

Finale – This is the beat where the main character incorporates the Theme. Whatever the theme is, it finally makes sense to. As a result, the hero is even more committed to winning the battle and achieving the goal

Avatar – Having fully committed himself to the Na’Vi, Jake goes to battle with them against the humans who are threatening their existence.

Avatar 3Final Image – In many cases this Final Image may be the opposite of the Opening Image. It shows a change has occurred, but internally and externally.

Avatar – In the opening image, particularly in the extended version of the movie, Jake is alone and seemingly without purpose. In the final image, he is surrounded by the Na’Vi in a ceremony where his consciousness is transferred from his human body to his avatar body. He has a home now. He belongs.

Here is the beat sheet for Zootopia, a movie that, despite being ostensibly for kids, is a movie that addresses many of today’s current issues and was quite engaging to boot. The website has a lot more examples of movies so if you’re interested in seeing how other genres can be analyzed using the Beat Sheet, check it out.

Good luck with your plotting.

Starting tomorrow I’ll talk about resources for writing in different genres and building the world for your NaNo novel.

NaNoWriMo Prep # 7 – What’s Your Character’s Sign?

TaurusAs I mentioned in a prior post, I don’t do astrological charts for my characters but as a rule I do know what sign they are. Why?

I find astrology useful when I want to go into more depth with a character. If, for example, I know my hero is a Taurus, I can either look up the characteristics of a Taurus in one of my tarot books, such as Linda Goodman’s classic Sun Signs, or go to any of the numerous astrology websites and look up the traits there.

Let’s see what Linda Goodman’s book says about Taurus. What’s great about Goodman’s book is not only does she talk about the sign in general, but she also details what a Taurus man, woman, child, boss and employee would be like. And her writing is very personable and fun to read.

Here are some examples:

Taurus in General

“The bull seldom rushes forward to stomp on your toes. He simply wants to be left alone. Don’t disturb him and he’ll remain content. Press him and he becomes obstinate.”

The Taurus Man

“The bull may take a long time deciding if he wants you for his woman. He’s not going to execute a flashy swirl dive into a pool of romance and discover on the way down that someone forgot to fill it with water.”

The Taurus Boss

“He is determined to give everyone a fair break. He won’t judge hastily. He won’t expect miracles overnight, nor will he mind if you’re a little slow in catching on to his methods and his very set procedures.”

Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs is full of gems like the above and, personally, if you were to get only one book on astrological personalities, I’d recommend this one.

Ms. Goodman wrote another book on astrology Linda Goodman’s Love Signs. This book pairs up the different sun signs romantically, so if you wanted to know how your Taurus Man would fare with an Aquarius Woman, this book will help you. It’s also a fun read and whenever I read it I can’t help seeing my characters in action.

Another book on romantic astrological couplings is Cosmic Coupling by Starsky & Cox. This book, however, doesn’t just focus on heterosexual astrological pairings. It also address both gay and straight pairings.

Another helpful book is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sextrologywhich will give you some ideas of the sexual traits of each sign.

Finally, if you find that most astrology books focus too much on positive traits, try Born on a Rotten Day – Illuminating and Coping with the Dark Side of the Zodiac by Hazel Dixon-Cooper.

What about that Taurus we were talking about earlier? Sounds like a pretty nice guy, right?

Well, if you look up the sign of Taurus in Born on a Rotten Day you’ll find that he can also be jealous, possessive and obsessive. Piss him off and he’ll hold a grudge. Seriously hold a grudge.

I’ve found that Born on a Rotten Day is really helpful for either coming up with negative traits for my characters to balance out the positive ones or for creating villains or antagonists.

And, of course, you don’t have to believe in astrology to use it for creating characters. Just think of it as another tool in your toolbox of techniques and strategies for NaNoWriMo.

Oh, and I just remembered. Corrine Kenner wrote a book called Astrology for Writers.

NaNoWriMo Prep #6 – Do Your Characters Change?

Thor_320Character Arcs

One of the things you may want to consider when creating characters for your NaNo novel is whether they are going to arc. What do I mean by that?

Generally, in most fiction, characters change. They start out one way and wind up another. Why? Well, I think it’s because we like to think that we’re all capable of changing. That we can become stronger, braver, smarter. Why are make-overs on television talk shows so popular? It’s the possibility and the promise of becoming better than who and what we currently are.

Not all characters change, of course, and nor is it required. But I do find that the books and movies I like and remember the most are ones where the character changes.

In the movie Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth, Thor starts out as a vain, blustery, rash man who cares only for glory. By the end of the movie he’s learned to be less rash, less self-obsessed and is even able to willingly sacrifice himself for others.

Personally, I like character arcs. Not all of my characters arc, but definitely the major ones. Sometimes, however, even having just a secondary character arc can be rewarding. Think of Han Solo in Star Wars. He’s not going to stick his neck out for nobody. Especially not for some princess, an old fossil of a Jedi Knight and a green as grass farm boy. But at the end of the movie who comes flying in at the last second to help Luke blow up the Death Star?

I’m not aware of any books that deal specifically with character arcs. Most books on characterization will address the issue in some form. But I did find some articles on the web that discuss character arcs.

So, think about the characters you’re going to write about in your NaNo Novel. Are any of them going to change? If so, consider giving them an arc.

Character Arc – Because the Only Constant is Change

The 3 Types of Character Arc – Change, Growth and Fall

Creating Stunning Character Arcs 

Character Development Drives Conflict

Character Arc 101

Character Arc Worksheet – This is a worksheet that will  help you chart your character’s arc over the course of your NaNo novel.

NaNoWriMo Prep #5 – Naming Your Characters

Before I start today’s post, I want to bring to your attention a book you might find useful for NaNo prepping. It’s called Fast Fiction – A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden. What’s especially interesting about this book is that Ms. Jaden is a NaNoWriMo alumni. Here’s a link to a Fact Fiction Printable sheet she’s provided on her website.

Here’s a website you might also find useful. It’s called How to Write a Book in 30 Days, a series presented by The Guardian.

Now, on to today’s post.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or so sayeth fair Juliet to her Romeo.

But character names are pretty important. Names can tell us a lot about a character. They can resonate positively or negatively, either by the way they sound or look or just because when we were in fifth grade some guy named Percy was really mean to us.

Personally, I don’t spend that much time mulling over names for my characters. I try to use names that are appropriate for the genre, time period, culture, location, personality type but I don’t obsess over it.

The one thing I do try to avoid, however, are characters whose names start with the same letter and/or sound or look alike. Like John and Joan, for example.

That being said, however, I do have quite a few baby name books around my writing area.

Plus there is an overabundance of baby naming websites out on the web. Just type in “baby names” in your favorite search engine.

Today I’m going to share a few of my favorite baby names books and websites. There are also name generators out on the web that can generate names for elves, dwarves, whatever.

The Baby Name Wizard – A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for your Baby – Laura Wattenberg

This is one of my favorite baby name books because it categorizes name by styles. For example, under the category Charms and Graces you’ll find names like Bonnie and Grace, Lavender and Pearl. Under the category Last Names First you’ll find Archer, Baker, Chandler, etc. Under Porch Sitters, names the author defines as having been out of circulation for quite some time, you’ll find Elvira, Homer, Mildred and Virgil. The author also a nifty website.

The Name Finder at the website lets you put in specific criteria for a name. So if you know you want your character’s name to begin with a, not end in z and have three syllables, you can specific that.  –

What’s in a Name? -Surnames of America –  This book is out of print. I actually found it in the book section at my local Goodwill, but I use it quite a bit. Books of surnames are not as plentiful as books of first names but there are some out there.

New Dictionary of American Family Names – Another book that’s out of print but Amazon has copies for a penny with $3.99 shipping.

The Character Naming Sourcebook – Sherrilyn Kenyon  – This is a great book for character names as it’s specifically written for writers. Not only does it lists names from cultures around the world, but it also has short articles written by authors about their character naming experiences. Highly recommended!

Hey Baby! What’s your Sign? – The Astrological Baby Name Book – Nancy Burke –  I’m one of those writers who may not draw up astrological charts for my character but I usually know what their sign is. This book is helpful if you know you’re character is a Pisces, for example, and want to find an appropriate name for a Piscean. The names are based on how they relate to that particular astrological sign. The books suggests for a female Pisces, among others, the name Pirene, which is Greek. Pierne was a daughter of a river god and Pisces rules large bodies of water.

This is book is more of use to me if I’m writing speculative fiction such as fantasy and I want the character’s names to mean something and also because of the exotic nature of many of the names.

Name Generator Websites

The Character Name Generator –  The site not only generates names based upon gender and ethnicity but also provides a profile of the character based upon the MBTI, which I’ll talk about in later posts. Very  handy if you need to come up with a character quick and, when you’re doing NaNo, trust me, that will happen pretty often! If you cursor down the website’s page, you’ll find even more name generators.

Fake Name Generator –  This website allow you to now only create a fake name, but a fake identity. Of course, you absolutely do not want to use this site to do anything you shouldn’t be doing, but it’s useful for coming up with a character who has not only a name, but a car, an occupation, blood type, favorite color, etc.

Character Name Generator for Creative Writers  This is a pretty basic name generator but a good tool if you’re in a pinch for a name.

And finally, here’s a link to really interesting article. It talks about how certain names connect around age. This information can prove useful if you’re naming characters spread out over generations. Or if, for some reason, you want to name your fifteen your old character Ethel because that was her great-grandmother’s name and it’s family tradition or something.

NaNoWriMo Prep #4 – Best Books for Creating Characters

Lady Books

How is your NaNoWriMo prep going? I’m concentrating on characters for the next week or so. I want my NaNo novel to be the first in a series so I’ll be spending more time on characters than I usually do.

Today I’m going to share some of the best books I’ve read on creating characters. You won’t have time to read all of them before NaNoWriMo starts, but when the insanity of NaNo is over and you have time, you can read them at your leisure.

If nothing else, glancing them through should give you some ideas.

The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines – Sixteen Master Archetypes – Tami D. Cowden, Caro LeFever, Sue Viders – Not only gives you sixteen archetypes to choose from, eight male and eight female, but demonstrates how these archetypes but clash and mesh.

Bullies, Bastards & Bitches – How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction – Jessica Page Morrell – Need villains and/or bad guys/gals? This book will help you create them.

The Power of the Dark Side – Creating Great Villains and Dangerous Situations – Pamela Jaye Smith – Another good book for creating villains, anti-heroes, etc. She talks about what’s so appealing and necessary about having the dark side in your fiction.

45 Master Characters – Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters – Victoria Lynn Schmidt – Similar to Cowden, LeFever and Viders’s book above but bases the archetypes on mythic characters such as Hera, Zeus and Apollo

A Writer’s Guide to Characterization – Archetypes, Heroic Journeys, and Other Elements of Dynamic Character Development – Victoria Lynn Schmidt – A companion book to 45 Master Characters but goes into more depth as to how these archetypes interact.

Characters & Viewpoints – Orson Scott Card – A classic book not only on creating characters but how using viewpoint. Highly recommended.

The Art of Character – Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film and TV – David Corbett – This is a new purchase. I’ve only had time to read the first few chapters but already I’m impressed.

The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits – Includes Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Types – Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D – This is a book to have on your research shelf. It’s full of information about all aspects of human behavior. Excellent resource

NaNoWriMo Prep #3 – Genres – What is Your NaNo Novel?

Another useful thing to know about your NaNo Novel is its genre. Not only will this help you when you want to market your book to an agent, publisher or if you’re going to self-publish, but it will help guide you when you work on your plot and choose your characters.

You can either write specifically in a certain genre, for example, mystery, or you can blend genres, i.e. a dystopian-mystery. If you decide to do this it’s important you understand that you may have a bit of difficulty marketing the book (should the book be classified as a mystery or as a dystopian?) but it can be exciting to do so. For example, J.D. Robb writes a mystery series set in the near future but her books are usually found in the mystery section of the bookstore. Not science fiction.

Here is list of the most common genres.

Young Adult
New Adult
Science Fiction

If you’d like a list of sub-genres, there’s a great one over at Writer’s Digest that can help you narrow your genre even more.

I’ve also added a link to a website about the evolving New Adult genre.

When you sign up at NaNoWriMo, you’ll find that there are forums specifically for different genres. This can be helpful not only because of the camaraderie but for getting assistance with your novel. If your NaNNo novel is a historical, for example, over in the Historical Fiction forum you can asks questions of your fellow historical novelists. Or help answer someone else’s questions.