31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep with the Tarot

Starting tomorrow, October 1st, I’ll be blogging about prepping for NaNoWriMo by using the tarot. Last year I was able to finish and win NaNo through the use of the tarot and I’d like to share how I did  that with you.

Writing & Tarot Characters CoverI’ll be working from and featuring two books I’ve written on tarot and writing: Write Faster with Tarot – Book One/Creating Characters and Book Two/Structuring Plots.

I’ll be working out of both books, using some of the spreads I’ve created and used over the years when it comes to using the tarot for writing.

Please join me as I begin my month long journey to getting ready for NaNoWriMo – 2015!


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 #18 – Making the Time

Nine O'ClockManaging your time during NaNo is going to be one of the, if not THE, biggest factor in getting 50,000 words completed by November 30th.

Therefore, it’s not a bad idea to start thinking now about how you’re going to manage your time. You don’t want to wait until November 1st to start deciding how you’re going to fit NaNoWriMo in with the rest of your life.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful when I’ve done NaNo. I’ve also included links to articles that address not only time management overall but managing your time if you’re a stay-at-home parent, going to school, or juggling school and work. By practicing these time management tips you’ll free up more time for your NaNo writing.

First, my tips.

  • Time yourself to see how long it takes to write 1,666 words in one sitting, which is the minimum required every day to reach 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th. I’m not saying you HAVE to write 1,666 words a day (there’s something ominous about that 666, don’t you think?). Your intent is to get an idea as to what YOU can do on average.
  • Get a calendar for November, whether it’s paper, online or on your smartphone, table or computer. Mark off the days you know are going to be problematic, i.e. exams, appointments, special occasions like weddings or birthdays, THANKSGIVING. You need to do this so you’ll know beforehand that you probably won’t get much writing done on those days, if any, which means you’ll have to stock up on words at some point. Try to find dates on the calendar where you know you can put in some extra time writing. (I know, I can here you already. Extra time? Really?)
  • Find out what’s your best time for writing. Are you a morning person? Late night? Mid-afternoon? Do you write best by yourself or with other people?
  • If you are at a write-in with the intention to write don’t be afraid to let some of your more chatty companions know that. Kindly but firmly tell them that when you’ve finished your quota of words you’ll talk with them.
  • Treat yourself. Often. Give yourself an incentive to get those words done. Promise yourself something really special whenever you reach a goal. If you’re writing in a coffee shop or café, for example, tell yourself that when you’ve accomplished your goal you’ll order that yummy pumpkin spice latte.
  • When you reach 50,000 words CELEBRATE! Buy yourself something nice or, if you can’t do that, just dance!

Time Management Articles 

Best Time Management Tips for Writers 

How to Fit NaNo into Your Busy Schedule

Quick Tips for Better Time Management

NaNoWriMo Prep #17 – The Setting of Your NaNo Novel

SettingThe  Setting of Your NaNo Novel

Creating a setting for your novel can involve describing a landscape, the middle of a bustling city or the interior of your character’s bedroom.

Long ago writers spent an excessive amount of time describing settings, primarily because their readers hadn’t seen those places. Today we have access to everything from Google maps to YouTube videos of places and settings all around the world. Not only can you “visit” these places without leaving your home, but so can your readers.

Of course, nothing can beat actually visiting a place.  But not all of us can either afford or have the time to visit the places we want to write about. And, especially, if you’re setting your NaNo novel in a fantasy or science fictional landscape you can only visit it in your imagination.

Still, it’s important to create a rich setting for your novel. Since I talked about Avatar earlier, James Cameron did such an incredible job creating the setting of Pandora that some people after viewing the movie experienced a mild letdown at having to return to the ordinary world. Imagine doing that with your NaNo novel!

Avatar Setting

Here are some articles and worksheets to help you do just that.

Setting Worksheet – – A handy, blank pdf for sketching out your setting.

Narrative Elements of Setting – – This article provides examples from books to show ways to describe a room, the weather or natural surroundings.

Twenty-One Writing Prompts for Setting a Scene in Your Novel – Need help writing your setting? Try these prompts.

Setting (Elements of Writing  Fiction) by Jack Bickham – One of a series of books from Writer’s Digest Element of Writing Fiction, this is book will help you use sensual detail and vivid language to create your setting.

You don’t have to go overboard describing your setting but do you want your readers to feel as if they’re in the setting of your novel. But, during the mad month of NaNo, don’t stop to do research or spend hours detailing your setting. You will do that in the revision stage. Just have some idea of your setting and go on from there.

NaNoWriMo Prep #16 – Building Your World

World Building MapToday I’ll talk briefly about world-building. Tomorrow I’ll focus on setting, which is basically a more detailed view of the world you’re creating for your NaNo novel.

World-building is just that. Building a world for your NaNo novel. Usually world-building is associated with fantasy or science fiction novels. But even if you’re writing a contemporary novel set in your home town, you still should know as much as you can about it and do research, which is easier than ever to do thanks to the Internet.

For example, you may know everything about the side of town you live on as to where people go to eat, attend school, work or play but what if your character comes from a side of town you’ll not that familiar with? Then you’ll need to research it, visit it or chat with people who do live there.

Here are some articles that can assist you with your world-building efforts.

The Seven Deadly Sins of World Building  – An article that details some of the sins that can happen during world-building such as not considering the basic infrastructure or creating monolithic social, political, cultural and religious groups.

Twenty-Five Things You Should Know About World-Building –  Chuck Wendig never fails to make me laugh and he provides writing information that’s not only totally insane but totally accurate to boot. His post on world-building includes such headings as A Rich Tapestry Or An Unrolled Tube Of Plain White Toilet Paper? and Wait, I Need To Research My Made-Up World?

An Impatient Writer’s Approach to World-Building -I like prepping but I’ll admit I’m still having trouble world-building. Like the author of this post shares, I get impatient. Here is a quote from the article as to Strauss’s approach to world-building.

Before I do anything else, I make sure that I have a firm grasp of my world’s core principles; but the details–the shape and nature of the actual places my plot takes me–aren’t developed until I get to them in the course of writing.

World Building EyeHow Much of My World Should I Build – Lisle suggests that you build only what you need and imply the rest. Sounds good to me. I love a detailed world as much as the next reader, but I also don’t want to drown in details, especially if they’re not essential to the story.

30 Days of World-Building – This one started out as a series of post on a NaNo forum. Although geared more toward fantasy writing, it’s still useful and the author has graciously provided links to free downloads of the document, including pdf, epub and mobi.

So You Want to Build Your Own Fictional World – – The website TV Tropes has set up a page that assists you in building a world. What’s nice about this page is that when you click on the links it takes you to posts on the site about that particular topic and gives you examples and definitions. Of course you want to avoid doing anything that’s been done to death, thus the title “tropes”, but you may get some ideas as to how to twist a trope to make it new and fresh. Remember, there’s really nothing new under the sun, just revamps, revisions, revivals and reimaginings of what’s already been done.

Aliens and Alien Societies – Although this book focuses on science fiction the chapter on Creating Alien Societies can help you create any society, whether it’s human, paranormal or fantastical.

I actually find watching Face Off, Syfy’s reality series in which makeup artists compete for prizes, interesting because the makeup artists have to also explain the concepts behind their creations, i.e. what environment their creatures live in. For example, one of their challenges was to create elemental fairies who came about as the result of a natural disaster, such as a flood or earthquake.

NaNoWriMo Prep #15 – Choose Your Genre

If you haven’t chosen your genre for your NaNo novel or have but you’re looking for information, inspiration on guidance how to write in your genre, check out the books below. Nothing, of course, can substitute for reading widely in your genre, but it’s also good to check out what others have to say about writing in a particular genre.

MysteryMysteries, Thrillers and Suspense

Writing the Mystery – A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional – G. Miki Hayden

Writing the Modern Mystery – Barbara Norville

The Elements of Mystery Fiction – Writing a Modern Whodunit – William C. Tapply

Writing Mysteries – A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America

You Can Write a Mystery – Gilian Roberts

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery – A Practical Step by Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript – James Frey

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel – How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style – Hallie Ephron

The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery – Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick

Writing Mysteries – Edited by Sue Grafton with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman

How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries – Kathy Lynn Emerson

How To Write Mysteries – Shannon Ocorck

How to Write Killer Fiction  The Funhouse of Mystery and the Roller Coaster of Suspense – Carolyn Wheat

Don’t Murder Your Mystery – Chris Roerden

How to Write a Damn Good Thriller – James Frey

Now Write! Mysteries – Suspense, Crime, Thrillers and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers  – Edited by Sherry Ellis & Laurie Lamson

RomanceRomance and Erotica

Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger

The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes

On Writing Romance – How to Craft a Novel that Sells by Leigh Michales

Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz

A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Alison Kent

The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict

Elements of Arousal by Lars Eighner

Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Beyond Heaving Bosoms – The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell & Candy Tam

HorrorScience Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror – Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers – Edited by Laurie Lamson

The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction – Volume One – Edited by Dave A. Law and Darin Park

Concerning the Heavens – Crafting the Science Fiction Novel by Melissa Scott

Worlds of Wonder – How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by Crawford Kilian

How to Write Horror Fiction by William E. Nolan

Writing Horror by Edo Van Beldom

Young AdultYoung Adult/New Adult

Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson

Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K. L. Going

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing for Young Adults by Deborah Perlberg

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson

Wild Ink – Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market by Victoria Hanley

Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks

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.