There are many creative ways to generate writing ideas. There are many creative exercises a writer can use to get them unstuck. That’s part of the reason why writers read what other writers have to say regarding the craft. We’re always on the look out for some neat tip or trick to get us to the finish line when the going gets tough.
Well, I have a trick that I use regularly, and fairly frequently. I even use it to generate blogging ideas. That method is the Tarot.
I don’t want you to be put off before we even get started. I know a few people have some doubts, to put it lightly, regarding this collection of cards. If you want to dispel or answer some common questions about the Tarot, you can start here.
The Basics of Tarot
This is only a brief introduction to the tarot so we can move on to how Tarot can help you as a writer. The basics of tarot is as follows:
- Tarot is a collection of 78 cards.
- The 78 cards are divided into two sections: Major and Minor Arcana
- The Major Arcana is comprised of 22 cards generally starting with card 0 The Fool and ending with card 21 The World (this can vary with some decks starting with card 1 the Magician and ending with card 22 The Fool).
- The Minor Arcana are closer to a normal deck of cards in that there are 4 suits: Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles/Coins/Disks. Some of the names of the suits might vary depending on artistic interpretation. The Cups might be called Chalices, the Wands might be Staves or Staffs, etc.
- Each suit has cards Ace through 10
- Each suit has four Court Cards: Page, Knight, Queen, King. The names of these cards might vary depending on the deck, though the hierarchy is generally the same, though the Queen and King might switch.
This is the basic of basic to Tarot. This isn’t even Tarot 101, this is Tarot 98. But this is all you need to know to use Tarot as a writing tool.
Tarot as a Writing Tool
Using Tarot as a Writing Tool can help you come up with writing prompts, develop characters, and help you structure your story.Tweet
I’m going to share just a couple of ways you can use the tarot to do just this. And you don’t need to know how to read the cards. All you need is a deck of cards with a scene on each card. I’ll get to what that means in a minute.
For now, here are Three ways that I use Tarot as a Writing Tool.
3 Ways to Use Tarot as a Writing Tool
Something to keep in mind before we explore the 3 ways to use tarot as a writing tool, is that you will get to know the cards. You may start using these cards for divination purposes instead of as a writing tool. Or, you may even be a pro tarot reader.
Whether you know the cards and their meanings or you’re just starting to explore them, be sure that when you use them as a writing tool that you throw your definitions out the window. Look at the cards through new eyes each time you use them. This is how you can enhance your creativity with them.
You can check out a couple ways to meditate before using them if you need help clearing your mind of what you know, here.
Onto the methods.
There is a method to learning to use Tarot as a writing tool. To put it simply, it’s to look at each card on their own before you put them together.
Starting from Scratch
Some of the ways you can use the Tarot involves pulling more than one card at a time (crazy, I know). But to fully appreciate each card, I recommend pulling one card, writing on it, putting it to the side and spend some time breathing or clearing your mind before you pull the next card, and then writing on that card as well.
Some guiding questions/prompts when you’re writing on the cards are:
- What do you see? Completely describe the entire card, get as detailed and specific as possible.
- What is the atmosphere like?
- If you were to step into the card, what would you feel? Is it cold? Hot? Tense? Windy?
- If you were to interact with the person or people in the card, what would you be doing or saying to them?
- What are the people in the card thinking? What does it look like their goals are?
Once you’ve examined and written about each card, the you can put them together.
You do not have to do this each time you use them. This is mostly when you’re starting a piece from scratch and you’re just getting your bearings.
Working on an Existing Piece
While you still want to spend time writing about each card as you draw them, the questions you’re going to be thinking about will directly relate to your story line.
For example, if you’re using the Light Seer’s Tarot, and you’re working on a piece and you realize that you need someone to act as the Mentor for your story, you might draw a card to get an idea of your Mentor.
If you draw the 9 of Pentacles, you might spend some time writing about the young individual who is hanging her herbs from the ceiling, who is happy and looks like she really enjoys what she’s doing. You might then decide that your mentor is actually a medicine-maker’s apprentice based on the card.
There are more ways you can use the cards to help with an existing piece, two of which you’ll learn about in the 3 ways to use tarot as a writing tool below.
Let’s get started.
Sometimes we just need a character. We know that in our story, our MC might have to come across someone, but we don’t know where to start. Drawing a card from the Tarot can help to guide us.
Depending on the deck you have, you draw any card and look at the person in the card to use it to describe your character. Do they look bored? Busy? Upset? Are they crafting? Practicing something? Thinking? What are their physical features?
If you want to get more specific, you can pull out the Major Arcana Cards that have people in them (sometimes cards like the Sun or Moon won’t have people in them) and the Court Cards. You can shuffle and draw them.
Here is a quick reference that might help you with the court cards. You can take it or leave it.
- The Pages represent younger people, usually 24 ish or younger
- The Knights generally represent age groups 25-39 ish.
- Queens generally represent a more mature woman, aged 40 and upward.
- Kings generally represent a more mature man, aged 40 and upward.
- The Pages can represent a student, new hire, or an intern. Someone very green, to say the least.
- The Knights represent someone who’s lower on the chain, but they’ve been there long enough to know the ropes.
- The Queens represent a senior role, possibly management, but not at the top of the chain.
- The Kings represent experts or CEOs, or, well, Kings.
These are just a couple of ways that you can get started.
Situation + Problem
This is a very simple Tarot spread you can use to create a writing prompt. I regularly use this not just in my own writing, but for the prompts that I post on my Instagram account as well.
This spread is simple:
- Draw the first card, which represents the situation. This can represent a scene, a person—however you view the picture. Write out your thoughts on the picture, just journal.
- The second card will cross the first card, and it represents the problem to your situation, or the person you have, whatever. This card presents the obstacle or disruption to your situation.
You can use this method for existing pieces or if you’re starting from scratch. If you’re using an existing piece, you might even just pull a card to represent an obstacle that your characters come across, and leave out the situation altogether.
3. You can draw a third card if you’d like to create a full story. The third card will represent the solution. Your layout would then be Situation + Problem + Solution.
Play with it. See what works for you. Share in the comments below what you find!
This is a fun way to shake up your story a little bit. Sometimes we find that our stories are a little too direct. We know that our MC has to get from point A to point B, but they kind of glide through the obstacles. You need to make your MC try and keep the reader guessing if they’ll succeed or not. That means, sometimes they have to win, and sometimes they have to lose.
Using the Tarot can help with that.
Cut the deck in half, roughly, and turn the deck so that the cards are upside down. Shuffle the deck together with all the cards face-down. For each obstacle, draw a card. If the card is right-side up, then they succeed. If the card is right-side down, then they fail.
You can draw a couple of cards to help you decide what happens as a result of succeeding or failing.
The Right Tarot Deck for Writing
If you can, it’s best to get a deck just for this purpose. When considering the right Tarot deck for writing, you want to look a deck where each card has something going on in it, where the characters in it are all in motion. This means all the Major Arcana cards, all the Minor Arcana cards (though, admittedly, you might struggle with the 8 of Wands in most deck, as there seems to be a standard format for that card across all the tarot deck spectrum), and all the Court Cards.
What do I mean that there’s a scene going on? I mean that the people in the card are in motion, or at least, someone in the card is in motion.
Try this exercise:
- Spend some time staring at a card. Really get to know the card visually. Don’t try to interpret it, just look at it.
- Close your eyes, and imaging yourself stepping into the frame of the card. What’s going on? Do you need to watch your step? Are you breaking up a fight? Are you getting out of the way of a horse? Helping a woman garden?
If you can see that there’s something going on, then it’s a card with a scene. If you struggle to know what’s going on, then it’s not.
For example, in the Aquarian Tarot, which is a deck dear to my heart, the Knights are all, for the most part, close-ups of the knight from the breast up. Likewise, many of the Major Arcana are like this as well. This deck doesn’t do well for creative writing.
Another thing to keep an eye out for are diverse tarot decks. Remember, we aren’t in a 2D world. We live in a world created from a rainbow tapestry, with people coming from numerous backgrounds, and in all shapes and sizes, different ways of thinking, different abilities, and orientations. A diverse deck can keep your story as rich as the world we live in.
Some great decks for writing are:
- Next World Tarot
- The Light Seer’s Tarot
- The Spiral Tarot
- The So Below Tarot
- The Everyday Witch Tarot
- Urban Tarot
- The Cosmic Cycles Tarot
This is a very short list to get you started. There are thousands of decks out there, and they are superb in their own way. I do warn you, collecting Tarot decks can become addicting.
A great way to see a deck and all of its cards is to follow the hashtags #tarotcommunity #tarotcards and #tarotdecks on Instagram. When you find a deck you think you might like, look for that deck’s own hashtag. For example, if you’re interested in the Urban Tarot, look up the hashtag #urbantarot and you can see posts from people using the deck, and thus see various cards.
Your homework is two-fold.
First, get yourself a tarot deck. Use the information above to get the right deck for you with the purposes of writing. If you’re already a tarot reader and have ample decks, sift through your decks and see which fit the above criteria.
If you’re not sure that you want to commit to a deck just yet, there are plenty of “free tarot reading” websites and apps, which provide randomly generated readings. Use it to draw one card and only read the picture, not the definition. Depending on the site or app you use, you can potentially pick the deck used, though not all of them are good for this purpose.
Once you have your deck or a satisfactory electronic deck, combine all the ways mentioned above to write a short story.
- Use the cards to create a character or two.
- Use the Situation + Problem spread. If you’d like, you could go so far as drawing a solution card as well.
- Map out the story using the Succeed/Fail technique.
Write the story.
How did it go? Did it work for you? Let me know in the comments below!
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