Day 1 – 31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep with Tarot

tarot, tarot reader, tarot cards, fortune telling, fortune teller,The tarot is a group of cards that are often used for divination. They’ve been around in one form or another since the 15th century. Some tarot historians will say they’ve been around longer than that.

Suffice to say tarot has been around for a long, long time and now, in the 21st century, they are not only around but here to stay.

When I first began studying tarot there weren’t that many decks available. The one I began my studies with is what what is known as the Rider-Waite deck.

Cards from the Rider-Waite Deck

Now there are hundreds of decks with many more being created and distributed whether through traditional publishers such as U.S. Games or Lo Scarbero or what is becoming a growing trend of self-publication by tarot artists and creators.

Some of my tarot decks

Some of the many tarot decks I own and use in my writing.

I primarily use the tarot for self-examination and, most importantly, creative work. I use it to create characters, structure plots, brainstorm settings and draft scenes. There isn’t an aspect of writing that I don’t find a use for tarot.

Some may think of using tarot as a crutch. Or even as a cheat. I dispute that emphatically. Using tarot in your writing is not a cheat. It’s a tool.

I think of the tarot as keys by which I can unlock ideas and insights that are lying just below the surface of my conscious mind.

With so many different types of decks being created by so many talented artists and writers, no matter what type of writing you do, I can confidently say you will find a deck that will help to stimulate you when it comes to your writing.

Even if you already own a deck, check out the Aeclectic Tarot website. If you don’t, I strongly encourage you to do so. Not only will you find reviews and sample cards from hundreds of deck, there’s information on how to read the tarot and, most importantly for our purposes, decks that are categorized by topics.

So, for example, let’s say you’re writing a story about zombies. There’s a Zombie Tarot Deck and a Zombie Apocalypse Tarot Deck. If you’re writing a mystery you may find the Sherlock Holmes Tarot Deck useful.

From Zombie Tarot Deck

Or perhaps you’re writing a fantasy. There are many fantasy-themed decks to choose from. The Chronicles of Destiny Fortune Cards is one of my favorites. Or you might prefer the other-worldly Fantastical Tarot deck.

You don’t have to use a specialized deck, however. The Rider-Waite deck I mentioned above is still the best deck for those new to tarot. One of the reasons it is a good deck to start with is because many creators of other decks use the Rider-Waite as their template when designing their decks.

Today I just wanted to introduce you to the Tarot. Most tarot decks are made up of 78 cards; 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. If you want to learn more about the structure of the tarot, The Tarot Lady website has an excellent blog post on the structure of the tarot and a list of books and websites for beginners. I highly recommend it.

You can also ask me questions in the comments below.

If you have a tarot deck, look it over and ask yourself how it can help you in preparing for NaNo. If you don’t have a deck, check out the ones at Aecletic Tarot.

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about using tarot and writing. The day after I’ll specifically talk about the two books I’ve written on using the tarot in writing. After that I’ll use spreads from both books and spreads not included in the books to demonstrate how you can use the tarot to prepare for NaNoWriMo.

Writing & Tarot Plotting Cover

Writing & Tarot Characters Cover


NaNoWriMo Day #10 – Who Loves Ya?

Although my NaNo novel is not a romance per se, the romance is important. Because I’ve been having a bit of trouble determining the dynamics of the relationship, I decided to do a quick spread called the Love and Relationship Celtic Cross (modified.) It’s similar to the Celtic Cross spread but does not have as many cards.

I used the Spiral Tarot deck.

Here is a picture of the layout.

Love Spread

I often do this with my characters, meaning I read for them. It’s a great way to get some insight into my characters and/or to break any blockage I may be experiencing.

Position 1 – What is the central problem/issue in the relationship?

Card drawn: The Star – Since I’m wanting to know what the problem/issue is in this relationship, I looked at the reverse meanings. The key words that jumped were out were disappointment, stubbornness and unfulfilled hopes.

The hero and heroine have both disappointed the other regarding their dreams and hopes for their relationship and both are too stubborn to admit they’re wrong.

Position 2 – What is blocking them from solving their problems?

Card drawn – The Three of Cups. Cups are usually symbolic of love but in this case, again, I’ll look at the reversed meanings. The keyword that jumped out “lack of appreciation.” Ah, that makes sense. Neither appreciated the strengths of the other. They were too focused on the weaknesses. Sometimes in a relationship we don’t appreciate the good points of our partners. Big problem. Both the hero and heroine were too focused on what was wrong. Not on what was right about their relationship.

Position 3 – What are the unconscious/underlying factors?

Card drawn – Princess of Pentacles –  In this deck, what is usually known as the Page is called a Princess. I see this card as representing my heroine. She is a  practical, down-to-earth kind person (Pentacles usually represent that kind of personality) but the hero isn’t. He tends to reside in a more intuitive world of possibility. He wants to deal with what can be. She, with what is. And,also, she’s the one who broke it off because, in her eyes, it made sense to do so if things weren’t going to get any better.

Position 4 – What is the best higher guidance?

Card drawn – Ace of Cups – The penultimate representation of love. They’ve got to find a way to fall in love again and that means trusting, listening, being open to seeing the other for why they really are. Won’t be easy, however. If it’s too easy, I’ve got no story.

Position 5 – What are the past influences?

Card drawn – Nine of Pentacles – This card usually means accomplishment and material well-being. I know that one of the reasons my heroine called it off with the hero is that she thought he didn’t appreciate her accomplishments, and she often felt as if she were alone anyway since he spent most of his time immersed in his work. So, finally, she thought it would be better if she just struck on her own as the Nine of Pentacles often portrays a woman alone in a garden.

Position 6 – What is the likely outcome?

Four of SwordsWell, honestly, I don’t know yet. I have a vague idea as to how it’s going to end. But, it’s interesting that I pulled the Four of Swords, which in this deck shows a woman wrapped in a blanket. And she’s alone. Because this image for the Four of Swords is not one that’s typically seen in other decks, I looked up the meaning in the book that came with the deck. Here is what it said:

A woman has turned her back on the world. She has been asleep for some time. A candle has burnt out and the door is bolted.

That’s not the card I’d usually like to see as an outcome for a relationship BUT I’m not writing a romance. The romance is important but it’s not the overall thrust of the story. And it is the first book in a potential series. So, there’s a possibility my heroine might wind up either alone, unreconciled with the hero, or something else. I don’t know. But that’s okay, It gives me something to think about.

Wow, that really helped. I still have details to work out regarding the relationship but I have a bit more clarity now.

NaNoWriMo Day 6

Did a quick reading this morning to get some advice on how to proceed with NaNo. I’m a bit off the pace because I started late so just wanted to see what I should be paying attention to or avoiding.

Used the Illuminati Tarot, which is another of my favorite decks.

The MoonAce of WandsThe High Priestess

The Moon – This card often speaks of deception or of deceiving one’s self. It’s also the card of dreams, illusions, psychic abilities, the untamed versus the tamed. What I need to do is not delude myself as to how much work and writing I still have to do. Self-doubt is creeping in, as it always does when I write. Am I writing the right story? Is this dumb? Does this suck?

The Ace of Wands – One of the most creative cards in the deck. The will directed toward a goal. This card represents my desire to succeed with NaNo this year. And I can’t help but see the wand as some kind of writing instrument, like a pen, although I’m using a laptop to write. But the pen is the universal symbol of writing.

The High Priestess – This is my Soul Card, so this card is definitely me. Also, look, she’s holding a book. My NaNo novel. Finally finished.

This spread is telling me the best way to deal with any doubts I have about my writing is to keep writing in spite of them. And to find creative ways of doing that. As a matter of fact I’m currently reading Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. But it’s going to be hard work. The Ace of Wands is a great card for any creative endeavor but it only represents the spark, the initiation of creative effort. There’s still a lot of hard work to be done before the finish.

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 #12 – The Six Stage Plot Structure

Book CoverMichael Hauge is a script consultant and author. His book Writing Screenplays That Sell has been in print for over 20 years. He’s also collaborated with Christopher Volger, author of The Writer’s Journey.

Hague’s plot diagram follows both the outer and inner journey of the character. He also divides the story into three acts with Act Two having a mid-point break.

I’m going to use James Cameron’s Avatar as an example of this plot structure. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Hauge Plot Diagram

Avatar 1In Act One, the story is set-up and a new situation is introduced. Jake Scully, the story’s hero, is a disabled vet. When his twin brother is killed, Jake is offered the job of piloting his twin’s avatar, which plunges Jake into a new situation on the world of Pandora.

As it relates to Jake’s inner journey, he is living fully in what Hauge calls The Identity. The Identity is the emotional armor a character wears to protect him or herself from some wound, whether emotional or physical.

In Jake’s case, his identity is to do as he’s ordered and to operate as the former soldier he still sees himself as despite his disability. The other soldiers look down on him and don’t consider him one of them, especially since, according to Jake, they’re only on Pandora for the money.

The Essence is who the character is when that emotional armor is stripped away In Jake’s case, deep inside he wants to be a hero, a warrior who yearns for something truly worthwhile to fight for. He doesn’t want to fight just for money. He wants something more.

In  Act One the character also gets a glimpse of what they could be if he or she were living fully in their Essence. In this case, Jake’s avatar, the alien body he will pilot using his mind, is a glimpse of who and what Jake will become over the course of the story’s journey.

In Act One, there are also two Turning Points. Turning Point One is  the Opportunity. In Avatar, it’s the offer made to Jake Avatar 2to start a new life on Pandora. The second Turning Point, Change of Plans, is the Turning Point that pulls the character into Act Two. In Avatar, the second Turning Point for Jake is when  he is separated from the other scientists and soldiers and winds up being found by Neytiri.

Not only is Jake now firmly in Act Two but he’s also in a different world, the world of the Na’vi or what Campbell and Vogler call the Special World.

In Act Two, as it relates to the Outer Plot, Jake is making progress on his goal to learn more about the Na’vi. But as it relates to the Inner Journey, Jake is still operating from his Identity as a soldier. He’s been ordered by the story’s antagonist, Quaritch, to obtain military intel on the Na’vi so Quaritch can force them to comply with the company’s desire to mine on their land,

However, one of the functions of Act Two is to move the character along both the Outer and the Inner journeys. As it relates to the Outer Journey, the hero faces more complications and higher stakes in achieving his goals. As for the Inner Journey, the character wavers between the Identity and the Essence.

Avatar 3This is illustrated when we see Jake switch back and forth from his disabled human body to his strong, powerful Na’vi body. He’s also becoming more and more like the Na’Vi and, at the midpoint of the story, or as it’s called the Point of No Return, Jake not only becomes a member of the Na’vi, or the People as they call themselves, but he and Neytiri make love and she tells him they are mated for life.

Jake is now in the second half of Act II, the stage known as Complications & Higher Stakes. We see this when the company invades the grove where Jake and Neytiri made love and destroys a sacred tree. We also see that Jake is fully committed to his Essence, his warrior Na’vi self, when he attacks the soldiers and bulldozers. He’s crossed a line of no return here. He’s made his choice and he’s choosing the Na’vi over the company and his fellow soldiers, although at this point Jake still hopes to find a way for the two to live together.

Hauge Plot Diagram

The Midpoint was Turning Point 3. Turning Point 4 is known as the Major Setback and it’s the point that also turns the story from Act Two into Act Three.

When Jake tries to warn the Na’vi that their home is about to be destroyed, they find out that he was essentially nothing but aAvatar 4 spy, gathering intel for the humans. Jake tries to tell them that over time he came to love not only Neytiri but the Na’vi people, but they reject him and cast him out. Jake now has nothing and is nothing, neither a part of human society or the Na’vi. It’s his dark night of the soul, the Black Moment, and he literally wanders alone in the wilderness.

At this point, the hero may be tempted to retreat back to his Identity. If this happens, the story turns out to be a tragedy. But Jake does not do this. He chooses to become more fully Na’vi and even more of his Essence by taming a Toruk, a dragon-like predator both feared and honored by the Na’vi. By taming the Toruk, Jake regains the trust of the Na’vi, including his beloved, Neytiri. He rallies the Na’vi for battle and we are now fully in Act Three.

There are two major stages in Act Three: The Final Push and the Aftermath. There is also one final Turning Point, the Climax.

Avatar 5In Act Three of Avatar the humans are planning one final battle to utterly destroy the Na’vi. In response, Jake organizes all the tribes of the Na’Vi to fight the humans.

In the climax, the hero and the villain usually come together for one final, decisive confrontation. This happens when Quaritch attempts to defeat Jake by killing his human body and incapacitating his avatar. However, Quaritch is killed and the humans that had wanted to despoil Pandora and destroy the Na’vi are defeated and forced to return to Earth.

The Aftermath not only resolves the story questions but shows the transformation of the main character from Identity to Essence.

In Jake’s case, he not only literally forsakes his human body, which represented his Identity, but his consciousness is transferred permanently from that body to his Na’vi avatar body, the symbol of his Essence.

You don’t have to worry that following Hauge’s structure will cause you to write a NaNo novel like Avatar. Keep in mind that story structure is like a cup. You can pour coffee, milk, water, wine, hot chocolate, etc in it. Structure is nothing more than a skeleton upon which you flesh out all kinds of stories; mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, romances, literary, etc. each one as unique and individual as you are but supported by a strong structure that will keep your story from meandering or falling apart.

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.