Day 4 – 31 Days of NaNoWriMO Prepping with Tarot

Diana Castle, group, characters, NaNoWriMoIn 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

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

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

Writing & Tarot Plotting Cover

Writing & Tarot Characters Cover


Day 2 – 31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep with Tarot

nanowrimo2660x963_1Today on Day 2 of 31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep with Tarot I’d like to briefly discuss how to use the tarot in your writing.

As I’ll be going into more details with the spreads I’ve created, I’ll save more in-depth discussions for later.

The book I credit with introducing me to the potential of using the tarot for my writing is Corrine Kenner’s Tarot for Writers. If you’re interested in using the tarot for your writing, there’s no better book out there than this one. Kenner discusses how to use the tarot for character creation, storylines and plot, setting and description and breaking writer’s block among other things.

She includes not only writing practices for using the tarot in your writing but she also provides a comprehensive writer’s guide to the tarot in which she describes each of the 78 cards in the tarot deck along with their meanings and how to use them in your writing.

ITarot for Writers - Llewellyn publication - read free online purchased my copy back in 2009 and it’s pretty dog-eared from my use of it over the past six years. It’s the definite go-to book for anyone interested in tarot and writing.

An article you might find useful is Tarot and Creative Writing written by Ruth Ann Amberstone. I also found this great Character Profile spread over at Writing After Dark.

Prior to 2009, when I tried to find articles online about writing and tarot there weren’t that many available. But since Kenner’s book was published, there seems to be more and more people discovering how useful the tarot is for writing. I’m glad to see this development and hope it continues.

Today I’ll leave you with a short exercise. Below are three variations of the Queen of Pentacles card. Imagine them as characters. In what ways are they similar and in what ways are they different.

Don’t worry about the meaning of the card right now. Just focus on the images. In what ways can you imagine the women in these cards as characters? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

The Robin Wood Tarot

The Illumanati Tarot

The Rider-Waite Tarot

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 Day 3

So I’m finally getting words down for NaNo. It only took Day 3 for me to get started. I work weekends so that threw me off somewhat. The time change didn’t help either. Was nice to get an extra hour of sleep but the day at work on Sunday dragged!

Plus first chapters are always a hurdle for me. But once I get that first chapter done, I’m usually fine.

I plan on using the Tarot a lot this NaNo. I’m gonna need the inspiration and guidance I suspect. I pulled these three cards from my Ancestral Path Tarot deck, one of my favorite decks, to get some insight on today and the fact I’m starting late.

ancestralempress - Copyanc9s - Copyancestral-path-tarot - Copy

The Empress is telling me to have faith and patience and that my creative energy will flow and, that despite my fears I’m going to fail (Nine of Swords) I will succeed at NaNo. (The Sun).

Sounds good to me. I’ve been a bit concerned because I didn’t start on November 1st like I’d planned. So far I’ve gotten 546 words done but will do more before the day is done.

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!

Tarot Thursday – 40 Ways to Write a Scene

tarot, tarot reader, tarot cards, fortune telling, fortune teller,As I discussed on Tuesday, there are 56 cards in the Minor Arcana. 16 court cards and 40 suit cards. There are four suits and 10 cards numbered 1 through 10 in each suit. That’s 40 cards.

That’s also 40 ways you can write a scene.

The Goddess Tarot

The Minor Arcana, as I stated before, tends to deal with issues concerning day-to-day matters. A Major Arcana card like The Lovers, for example, tends to deal with the idea of love or choice or, when it shows up in a traditional reading, it tends to mean Love with a capital L. It’s love on a cosmic scale, a love that signals a major change in your life. I would, therefore, use the that card as a theme card, or a card for coming up with a plot.

That’s not to say I couldn’t use it for creating a character or writing a scene, because of course I could, but since this is an introductory discussion on using the tarot for fiction writing, I’m going to address each of the components of the tarot separately. Next Tuesday Tarot I’ll talk about the Major Arcana and themes and plot.

The Two of Cups is also about love but on a smaller scale. It could represent, for example, a love scene or a kiss that does or does not happen in a scene or a partnership between two characters who aren’t necessarily lovers. It’s not that cosmic, capital L kind of Love, but it also stands for affection, cooperation or partnership.

Scenes are the essential kernel of your fiction. Scenes are what make up your book or scipt. And scenes, like a book or a script, also have a structure. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. And each scene should also have a goal, motivation and conflict.

I tend to think of scenes as being similar to those Russian nesting dolls. The ones in which you open the larger doll and  there’s a medium sized doll inside it, and when you open that doll there’s a smaller one inside that one, and on down to the smallest doll of all, which in this case is your scene.

Your overall plot or story is going to have an overall goal, motivation and conflict. Luke wants to defeat the evil empire, become a Jedi Knight and blow up the Death Star. But within those larger story goals are smaller scene goals, i.e. he first has to leave the farm and join Obi-Wan on his quest, then he has to keep from being made mincemeat by the first thug he meets at the cantina at Mos Eisley, then he has to escape from the Death Star when he and the others are captured, then he has to convince Han Solo to help him rescue Leia and so on and so forth. Each of those are individual scenes within the overall movie, with their own goals, motivations and conflicts.

The Minor Arcana can help you plan out or brainstorm those scenes.


Let’s say you have an idea for a scene. Your heroine has to make some minion of the villain tell her where he’s hidden the documents that will help her put the villain away for good.

Her goal: To make the rat talk.

Her motivation: Because she needs those documents as evidence of the villain’s involvement in having murdered the mayor.

Her conflict: The rat refuses to talk.

What I’m going to do now is randomly draw there cards (and I’m only going to use the Minor Arcana) to see if I can get some help as to how to write this scene.

Remember when I mentioned how versatile a three-card spread is?  I need only three cards for the goal, the motivation and the conflict. Here they are

Three of Wands – Goal


Eight of Swords – Motivation

Four of Swords – Conflict

For the goal, the Three of Wands tells me that the heroine is running out of options. If she’s a detective, for example, she may have broken a few rules to get the minion in her clutches for questioning. Maybe she has no probable cause for arresting him. Maybe she’s been told to stop working on the case but she can’t because the mayor was a decent woman who had once mentored the detective. All she knows is that she’s determined to get the answers she needs and fast.

Motivation. Eight of Swords – Because my heroine/detective is operating outside the law by interviewing this person, she knows that there’s only so much she can hope to use in court. She has to be careful, therefore, because she believes she has no viable options remaining but to get the answers she needs, even if it is in this questionable manner.

Conflict. Four of Swords – The heroine is exhausted. She hasn’t had any sleep in the last twenty-four hours. She’s stressed out, she’s not on top of her game. One slip up and this whole case could blow up in her face. She has to keep her wits about her, but her mind is like mush. And the guy she’s about to interrogate? He knows this.

So, now, as a result of pulling those three cards, I have a bit more information as how to write the scene. You see, the way I think the tarot operates is that when you draw the cards with a specific intent in mind, what you come up was there all the time. You just needed something to push it out of the back of your mind, the unconscious or subconscious and into the forefront of your brain.

Granted, you don’t need to pull out a tarot deck every time you sit down to write a scene. But at those times when you’re feeling stuck or you’re not sure what to do with a scene, the tarot might just help. Remember, you can also use the tarot, including the Major Arcana and the Court cards, to cast and describe the characters you want in a scene, or use the cards to describe a setting in a scene, or use them for whatever helps you best.

And, with the diversity of decks out there, some of the wildest stuff might just pop into your mind. For example, in what way could a card like the one below be used to come up with a motivation for a scene?

The Steampunk Tarot

Tarot Thursday – Tarot Spreads

tarot, tarot reader, tarot cards, fortune telling, fortune teller,A tarot spread is a layout of the reading you’re going to perform, whether for yourself or a querent (the person seeking the reading). There are hundreds and hundreds of tarot spreads. Some tarot spreads encompass only one card and some can contain 78 or even more cards if, for example, you use two tarot decks.

The more cards you use in a spread, the more detailed the reading will be but, also, the more complicated.

A one-card spread is useful for a card of the day.

I find that the quickest, but most useful spread is the three card spread

A three-card spread can feature a reading about the past, present, future. Mind, body and soul. Option 1, Option 2, Option 3.

A spread is also like a lens. When you’re using the tarot, you have 78 cards and each of those cards can have dozens and dozens of meanings. Plus, what you’re using the tarot for will have an impact on how the cards are read.

The more you can focus your reading of the cards, the more helpful they will be.

When I use tarot for writing, I always use spreads. In Tarot for Writing, Corrine Kenner has a number of different spreads that are specifically for writers.

One of those spreads is called the Five Senses Spread, which you can find at Corrine Kenner’s Creative Guidance website

You lay out five cards in a row. You then allow yourself to focus on one of the five senses for each card. This is the sample from Kenner’s website.

Sight — Knight of Swords. Clouds race across the sky, and trees bend in the wind.

Sound — Queen of Wands. A cat meows.

Smell — The Sun. The air smells hot, with a hint of dry, black dirt on the breeze.

Taste — Seven of Pentacles. The flavor of fresh tomatoes.

Touch — The Page of Wands. The ground is hard underfoot.

See how that works. You can use the Five Senses Spread as a creative writing exercise or to help you write a description for your scene.

I’ll talk more about spreads and how to use them for your fiction in later posts.

I will, however, share a spread I created and use in my tarot and writing workshops. It’s called the Three Dimensions of Character spread. You can download a pdf of it here.

It’s based on Larry Brooks’ book Story Engineering. In his book Brooks says there are three dimensions to a character.

The First Dimension is the surface layer, the persona or the mask. What the character presents to the world. Who they pretend to be or must be in order to fulfill a certain function. We all wear our own kinds of masks or personas, and we usually wear more than one. We can be Daughter or Son, Father or Mother, Employee or Employer, Brother or Sister, Lover or Friend. These may be masks that actually reflect who we truly are or are worn in order to help us fit in.

The Second Dimension is our backstory and or inner demons. This dimension lies under the first one, and is often the reasons why we feel we must put on certain masks. It’s what happened to us in the past that makes us afraid to show our true selves. It’s what’s driving us to do the things we do or, in the case of your fiction, what your characters are driven to do.

The Third Dimension is our actions and decisions. When you’re writing your story, your characters must act from their true selves. Who they are deep inside. You don’t want to lie to the reader. If, on the surface, your character acts like a coward because he or she was bullied as child, but deep inside he or she is actually heroic, then that is what they should and must be. Heroic. And they must demonstrate this heroism by their decisions and, subsequently, their actions.

So, using The Three Dimensions of Character spread and my handy tarot app, I’m going to lay out a quick demonstration of how to use the spread. I’m also going to use another app I have for character prompts. Let’s see what I come up with.

Character’s name is Deon Carlisle, he’s 58 years old and he’s a claim investigator. He’s 5 feet 10 inches tall with dark gray hair and light hazel eyes. He has a round face and he uses a cane. I got all that from my character generator app.

I like to select a genre before I do any brainstorming with the tarot as I think it helps to focus my reading. Let’s see. How about a thriller? The reason I like to know what my genre is because when I look at the cards, I’ll focus on what traits or situations or plot ideas would be conducive to a thriller.

Now for the card selections to determine what are the three dimensions of Mr. Carlisle.

I selected the three card spread on my app and these cards came up.

Eight of Swords

Eight of Swords for the First Dimension of Character – My app tells me that the Eight of Swords stands for helpless thoughts, limited options, restricting beliefs, excuses and victim mentality. So I’m thinking that Deon feels victimized. Maybe he feels like he’s being pass over for promotion after promotion at his job. He’s been a claims investigator for 20 years. He tends to blame others for his lack of movement at his job. He tends to think that others have it better than he does.

Knight of Wands for the Second Dimension of Character – The Knight of Wands represents someone who’s forward-thinking, adventurous, exciting and passionate. The Second Dimension is the character’s backstory and/or inner demons. Perhaps this is who Deon used to be when he was a younger man. Perhaps he’d been full of fire and fury, willing to take on those who wronged the innocent. Or he’d been more of a go-getter, hoping to set the world on fire with his ambitions and dreams.

I also like to look at the reverse interpretations for a card, even if that card didn’t come up reversed in the spread.

Knight of Wands

The reverse keywords for the Knight of Wands are lack of inspiration, no energy, fear of failure, reckless. It’s possible that when Deon was younger he might have been so afraid of success that he gave up before he had a chance to make it big. Or maybe he did something reckless in his youth that hurt those he cared for. I’m just brainstorming here, so I may or may not use of any of this. I’m just trying to get the creative juices flowing. But I’m already finding out more about Mr. Carlisle than I knew before. I’m even imagining that he was some kind of athlete when he was younger, but now he’s grown not only older but heavier, and the fact that he has to use a cane galls him to no end.

Seven of Pentacles for the Third Dimension of Character – The Seven of Pentacles usually stands for competence, patience, having planted the seeds for some venture or project and waiting to receive the awards. The Third Dimension of Character is who the character truly is, and their actions and decisions in the story itself. Maybe Deon has been carefully, discreetly and patiently investing his money all those years he was a claims investigator. He’s actually got quite a bit of money put away. He’s set for life.

But he doesn’t want to just fade away. He wants to do something exciting. So, since this is a thriller, maybe Deon takes his money and invests it in some business that turns out to be rather shady and the next thing he knows he’s being shot at and hunted by a mysterious woman!

Again, all of this is just to get me started. There’s a lot more work ahead of me if I want to find out what happens to Deon Carlisle. But I know more about him than I did before I laid out that spread that’s for sure!

If you have any questions about any of my blog posts about the tarot and writing, feel free to ask them in the comments section.