By Sandy Wright
There’s nothing more freeing, or more frightening, than facing a blank page to start a brand new creative writing project. So many possibilities. But where to start? And what if I run out of ideas half-way through?
With a tarot deck beside you, you won’t be starting out with a blank page. Instead, you’ll have a world of stories and subtext, character traits and interactions at your disposal. If you allow your creative juices to flow, the cards will bring those stories to your page.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to be an expert on reading the cards to use them as a creativity tool. Simply trust your instinct and allow your unconscious to express itself. The mythical symbols and archetypes are already embedded in the images of the deck.
Corrine Kenner, author of “Tarot for Writers” says well-known writers, such as John Steinbeck and Stephen King, have used tarot cards for inspiration. They can help you develop your plot, conflict, character profiles, dialogue and scenery, as well as to introduce unpredictable elements. The cards can even jog your creativity if you run into a “block” in the middle of a story, by taking the open ended images on the cards and projecting a story into them.
A tarot deck consists of two parts: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana.
The 22-card Major Arcana represent universal archetypes, the basic patterns for human thoughts and emotions, often dramatic, life-changing events.
For example, Chariot card is all about decisive movement, will power, dominance and personal victory. If you draw this card while trying to decide the direction your male main character is going to take next, it could mean that he is currently controlling a situation through sheer force of will, and it’s made him overconfident. Maybe it’s time to present him with a setback that teaches him the end doesn’t always justify the means, or convinces him it’s time to learn compromise.
The Justice card, on the other hand, is about legal matters and equilibrium, as well as forgiveness and karma. If you drew this card for your male lead, he may be a forgiving soul who excuses bad behavior and gives people a second, maybe even a third, chance to redeem themselves.
In either case, draw a second card before you begin to delve into meanings. It’s fun to work in pairs, to find the yin and yang of the characters in your story.
We’ll come back to that topic in a moment, but first let’s look at the rest of the tarot deck.
There are 56 cards in the Minor Arcana. While the Major Arcana portrays big, universal themes, the Minor Arcana brings those themes down to the street and applies them to everyday life. The Minor Arcana has four suits—typically labeled Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. Each of those suits has ten numbered cards and four Court cards (King, Queen Knight and Page, or something similar). Each tarot suit corresponds to one of the elements: Fire, earth, air and water.
- Wands=Fire. Could be a fiery personality, tempers flaring, or positive enthusiasm and change.
- Pentacles=Earth. Wealth, or the flip side and money troubles. Commerce and property. Stuff you can touch and hold.
- Swords=Air. An intellectual person using words as a weapon. Conflicting ideas. Even worry and pain.
- Cups=Water, and all the emotions and intuitions that come with it. Also the all-important relationships and romance.
As a writing example, let’s go back to your male protagonist in the Major Arcana section above. You pulled the Justice card for his first draw, and have decided he is big on forgiveness and second chances.
You draw the second card, the 3 of swords.
Looking at the two drawn cards together gives you a deeper picture of your hero. Yes, he forgives others readily. But those three swords through the heart indicate that he is not nearly so forgiving with himself. He’s plagued by paralyzing regret and guilt about his own past. What in his past has caused such pain? That backstory is up to you.
Using the tarot to write your novel is about trusting yourself and allowing your subconscious to express itself. Pick a card and set it in front of you. What’s the first image that you notice? What do you think it means? Do you get an overall impression from the image as a whole? What thoughts or feelings emerge? How can you apply it to your novel? Free write without censure or editing, and see what happens.
This process can be used regardless of the genre of your novel. I’d recommend researching tarot decks online or at a local occult or New Age store, to find a deck that reflects your particular genre or “speaks” to you. I’ve included but a few samples of the diverse artwork on tarot decks. Thousands of samples are available, and the search for your personal author’s deck is half the fun.
For more information on creative writing using tarot, leave me a question here. I’d also recommend you pick up a copy of “Tarot for Writers” by Corrine Kenner for many more ideas on how to get started.
Sandy Wright’s first novel, Song of the Ancients, was published in May 2015 and is available in both print and ebook. Readers interested in witchcraft–or simply a dark, eerie tale–will enjoy this paranormal suspense, the first in the Ancient Witchcraft series.