One of the most important things in a book is that who or what is working against the main character as they try to complete their goal or their character arch. This is the antagonist.
I have a personal love for antagonists. I have a very high expectation for them in that I want them to reflect certain things in the main character, just like certain things in the main character might reflect in the antagonist.
Understanding the protagonist and antagonist can help you create a brilliant piece of work, and in this post, I’ll provide a way of using the Tarot to interview your protagonist and antagonist.
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what your protagonist and antagonist actually are and are not.
What is a Protagonist
To put it simply, the protagonist is the one who carries the story forward. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the protagonist is the main character, though these can sometimes be used synonymously. More often than not, the main character is the protagonist, though sometimes the protagonist can be someone who is just helping the main character.
What is an Antagonist
The antagonist is the one who slows the progression of the story down. This can mean hindering the main character in their goal or character arch, or it can mean it slows the plot down.
The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad guy. It can be someone who is well-meaning in the story who just gets in the way.
The antagonist also doesn’t have to be a person or sentient being. It can be elemental, such as the weather or having to do with the environment. It can be an illness, or it can be something conceptual such as time or the legal system. Likewise, it even science itself.
Whatever it is that the main character is working against is the antagonist.
Antagonist and Protagonist Discussion
An interesting and creative way to use the Tarot is to have a discussion with your deck. For example, you might ask a question, pull a card, and then respond to that card by asking another question, and so on.
How you can use this method in writing is to create a dialogue with your characters. Most of the writing-related Tarot spreads I make have card placements which answer a specific question about the situation, character, or the plot itself. For example, in my 3-Act Spread, the question for card 1 was essentially “What happens in the first act?”
However, you can create a dialogue between your characters this way by starting off with a conversation topic and allowing yourself to draw as many cards to create a back-and-forth between the characters as you feel is fit. Then, present another question.
The beauty of this spread is that it’s completely adaptable to your needs. I will give you a couple starting questions for you if you want, but really, you can create your own.
The First Thing You Need to Know
There are a couple of things you should know about your story before you continue on with this. However, it’s not essential. This method of reading the cards means that you can adapt it however you want, and you can discover a lot along the way as well.
- Is your Protagonist your MC?
As stated earlier, your main character is not always your protagonist. If you know this before you create this conversation, you might know whether or not have a dialogue between your MC, protagonist and antagonist, or just between two.
- Is your antagonist consciously in opposition to your MC?
This might change the questions you ask to get the conversation going between the two characters.
- The goal of at least you MC, though maybe your antagonist too.
Again, this will be a way for you to steer the conversation.
- Is your antagonist sentient?
In the cases of the antagonist being, say, mental illness or the weather or some other natural force, this spread is absolutely still do-able. You simply personify it. While weather might not have a goal other than to be (though we can get really philosophical here), you can still interview it in the sense of what damage it can do, how it can support your protagonist, or how your MC can use the problems it causes to their advantage. Get creative!
These are just suggestions for things to know ahead of time, though it’s not essential.
The Discussion Spread
First of all, if you haven’t already read them, check out my 3 Ways to Use Tarot as a Writing Tool and 3-Act Story Structure Tarot Spread. These will talk about the best decks to use and give you an introduction on how to go about using the decks.
Before you start into this spread, make sure you have a pen and paper or a recording device for you to record what you find. I personally find, that since this is a dialogue, it works better to record audibly rather than to write it down. However, I do go back and forth with which methods I use.
Also, be sure that you have a good chunk of time for this. While I will encourage you to read the cards quickly so you don’t hang yourself up on it too much, you might find that you go through the whole deck of cards—of which there are 78, so it could be a long discussion.
Finally, go with the flow of the conversation. Really try to imagine the characters having this conversation. What are their tones? Are they thinking about their answers before they speak? Are they responding with heat? As you draw the cards, keep them paced with the conversation. If you feel like a character is going to respond irrationally, flip the card quickly and flip the next card just as quickly, so you’re forced to read it similarly.
To outline this spread, there will be an example at the end of this post to outline how it might be done.
With that in mind, here are the steps for your Antagonist and Protagonist Discussion Tarot Spread.
The first step is to determine how many characters are at this discussion. This can be a round-table discussion, or a mediated dialogue—or go crazy; don’t mediate it at all. However, you need to know how many participants are in this discussion.
Generally, you don’t necessarily need a signifier card in a reading. I find them to be totally optional. However, in this case, I would recommend it simply as a marker for who is which side of the dialogue.
Select one for each participant in the discussion, and really make sure that this card is a good visual representation for each participant so you don’t get confused as to who’s saying what. If you have a really good discussion going on, there can be a lot of cards drawn.
Get Your Questions Ready
Think of this like a debate or a discussion on the news with a panel of talking heads. You are the facilitator of the questions, and then the participants discuss them. Because of this, you need to have a few questions ready, but also be ready to draw some cards.
Here are some potential questions to start you off:
- What is the relationship between you two (or three or four, etc.)?
- Why do you want to hinder MC?
- MC, what would you say antagonist’s greatest strength is? How does that help or hinder you? (ask the Antagonist the same thing)
- MC, how do you feel about antagonist? Antagonist, how do you feel about MC?
- What is your relationship to one another and how do you feel about it?
- What is the best outcome for each character in this story, from each character’s perspective?
Shuffle while you’re looking at the signifier cards, keeping in mind what you know about the characters in the discussion. Decide who should answer your question first and think about the question. When you feel like it’s time to stop shuffling, then draw your card and put it under the appropriate signifier.
Read the card quickly, keeping in mind reading the image on the card rather than thinking of the definition of the card, and record or write down your answers.
Be sure that you do read the cards quickly as you go about the back and forth. This is so you don’t get hung up on a card and you keep the conversation somewhat flowing.
If you have more than two participants in the discussion, draw a card for who you feel would respond first, and continue the discussion from there, reading the response to what’s been said or expressed in each card.
Draw as many cards in whatever order you want to keep the conversation going until you feel enough has been said on the topic.
From here you can repeat steps 3-5 as many times as you need to get a good feel of the relationship between the MC/protagonist and antagonist.
Your homework is to think about your main character, your protagonist, and your antagonist. While I highly suggest you play around with this dialogue method, I also invite you to do the work leading up to doing this discussion spread.
Knowing about your protag/MC/antag is essential, and the more you know about them before you start either this dialogue or even writing your story, the easier writing will be down the line.
Things You Should Know
For discovery writers, it’s not a big deal whether you know this or not. However, while you might discover your plot as you go, it’s good to have a little bit of background before you get to writing. Likewise, if you’re doing this Discussion Spread, then you can discover these things about your characters as you go.
However, here are some things you might want to know:
- Each character’s goal.
By this, I mean each character participating in the discussion, or who are going to play a major part in the story. Even the sidekick needs a goal, and if you want a really good character, their goal should be something other than helping the MC. It can be the same goal of the MC, but maybe for a different reason, which leads to the next question.
- Why is their goal what it is?
- How does the character view success?
- How does the character view failure?
- How does the character handle success?
- How does the character handle failure?
- What does the character hold dearest?
This can be a thing in the world, or it can be a concept, or it can be both.
Spend some time with these questions, or you can use these questions in your dialogue spread.
Example of the Discussion Spread
For this example, I’m creating two characters that I know nothing about. I’m going to use this discussion as a discovery method.
The genre I’m using is urban low fantasy.
I am keeping this simple, with my MC and my antagonist.
MC: The Emperor – a teacher of magic
Antagonist: 4 of Cups – a board and obnoxious teenager who thinks she knows the world better than her teacher does.
Also, the Tarot deck used for this reading is The Light Seer’s Tarot by Chris-Anne.
What do you want?
I’m starting with the MC, and then my antagonist will weigh in on this want from what she knows.
MC: to be happy Antagonist: but you’re always on guard and fighting. MC: I’m fight for what’s in my heart that I feel is right. You should learn to do that too. Antagonist: Yeah, sure whatever.
Note: You might be wondering where I got the “yeah, whatever.” Just to shed some light on how I’m taking away dialogue from the images, in the antagonist’s final comment, I drew the Devil. In the Light Seer’s Tarot, the Devil has a guy in the bottom former bent over and covering his ears. In the context of this conversation, I saw it as a denial of want to see or hear what the MC is having to say. Hence, there is the dismissal of “yeah, whatever.”
I put those cards to the side, not in the deck, and I asked the antagonist the same thing.
Antagonist: I want to just feel like I’m doing something good, and just want to be free-flowing. MC: you’re moving too fast. You have to slow down and really go deep into yourself to know what you really want. Antagonist: But I know enough about the world. I can manage. MC: But you’re holding me back because you won’t learn the lessons I’m damn trying to teach you. Antagonist: Fine, then I’ll go.
How does antagonist leaving make you feel?
MC: I feel like I need to chase after her. Antagonist: You don’t, I can manage on my own MC: I’m going to take the leap anyway, I can’t ignore it.
Antagonist, do you know that by running away you’re stopping MC from achieving his goals?
Antagonist: Whatever. I’m doing what I want with my life. He can do what he wants with his. MC: That’s not how this goes, we’re a team. Antagonist laughs.
MC, why do you have to chase after antagonist?
MC: There’s a lot she doesn’t know, and she will get lost in her own head if she’s not careful. Antagonist: You’re not giving me enough credit, and that hurts me. MC: I kind of want you to hurt. But, I want to be happy, and people hurting in the world doesn’t help me be happy. Antagonist: And that’s what I’m hoping for.
Why are you hoping for that?
Antagonist: because I have my own goals and really, I need my teacher. If he’s going off and doing his own thing, then he’s not teaching me. MC: So I can be happy or I can keep teaching her? I feel like I’m drowning with all this. Antagonist: choose wisely. MC: I’m going to be true to me. You can do what you want, but I’m staying true to me and pursuing my happiness/
What are you going to do about that, antagonist?
Antagonist: I’m just going to have to go back and remind him why he needs to chase after me.
I’m going to ask you both again – What do you really want?
Antagonist: I just want to feel complete and content. I want the whole family thing, and I want my magic to be completed, and I want to find love. But I can’t do that unless I have magic in my life, and my teacher won’t teach me. MC: you march to your own drum. You’re damn impossible to teach. Antagonist: some teach your are. You can’t center yourself enough to deal with a teenager? MC: I am a magician, and I am skilled in what I do. Some wily kid isn’t going to change that. You can try and rock this boat, but I know who I am, at least. Antagonist: You taught me that we all have the world inside us. That means that I do have the ability to change that. MC: I’m ignoring you. I like what I’m doing, and I’m not letting you disrupt that.
What Have I Learned?
I learned why it is that the antagonist is hindering the MC. While I started the conversation with the idea that they might already be at odds, as it went on, I saw that this is their backstory.
I learned that the MC is someone who is passionate about what he does, both in his professional life and in his personal life. He’s always “fighting.” It’s even seen here in the dialogue that he’s fighting to keep the antagonist on track, even going so far as to try and retrieve her. The antagonist then forces him to give up and pursue what makes him happy, and this will be something that comes up later in the story as a form of guilt which might be what he needs to overcome.
The antagonist is selfish. She just wants to do what she does. I can take from this that as the story goes on, she’ll resent him for giving up on her. And while she’ll try to make her magic great, she’ll always fall short because he gave up on her, despite the fact that she pushed him away. Because of this, there is an element of revenge. She will want to get him to give up on the other things he cares about simply to serve an ego boost in knowing that she isn’t worth giving up on, anything can be worth giving up on.
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