Using Tarot to Plan a Novel

We're halfway through February and I'm still enjoying my break from social media. Towards the end of January, I made a sudden decision to join a fellow writer in her February challenge, which consists of stepping away from social media for the entire month to focus on writing. I determined this month-long break would be similar to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every year in November.

I didn't have time to plot and outline a new novel ahead of time (I tend to daydream my story ideas for weeks or even months before I begin writing them), and yet I felt sure I wanted to start a new project rather than continue with an old one. This is where tarot came in handy. With only the vaguest story idea floating through my mind, I turned to my trusty tarot deck to help me figure out characters and plot.

I'm not ready to share my story idea yet, as it's still in the early stages, but I will share with you how I used tarot to help plan and plot my novel. This is a technique that can be used for other creative projects too; you don't have to know anything about tarot to start. What you do need: An active imagination and strong intuition.

Okay, so first of all, if you know the standard meanings of each and every tarot card, that's fine. That's wonderful! I do too. I've been reading tarot for well over twenty years now. But it's not going to help you here. Forget everything you know. We're not going to be looking at the traditional meanings, at least not 100%. Instead, we're going to delve deeper than that.

Make sure you have a deck that really speaks to you. Is it visually appealing? Do you appreciate the aesthetic? If you have several decks, for this particular exercise choose the deck that makes you smile the most. Have a notebook and pen handy for recording your thoughts.

Shuffle your deck, cut the cards, do whatever feels right in the moment. Now ask a series of questions, choosing one card per question.

For example:

What is the theme of my story? Now let's say you chose the Lovers. That's pretty obvious. You're either writing a romance, or love is a central theme in your book. But what if the card you draw isn't so obvious? What then? Well, this is where you need to spend some time just gazing at the card. Notice the colors, the symbols, the expression on the character's face(s). Does this character look shy? Boisterous? Is the character an introvert or an extrovert? What is their socio-economic background? Write down anything that comes to you. Trust your intuition. Once you have determined the theme for your story, move on and ask your next question. You could ask: Who is my main character? Who or what is the antagonist? What is the central conflict of my story? Who are the supporting characters? What motivates my character? What is my character's goal?

Once you have the theme, central conflict, cast of characters, etc. go ahead and begin weaving the story threads together into something cohesive. There might be an image among your cards that helps you come up with a really cool story idea. Just go with it.

Just to clarify, some of the tarot card meanings are obvious and it's okay if you want to go with the traditional meaning but the idea is to forget the traditional meanings of the cards and just look at the images and what each image means to YOU. So, in the above picture there is the Queen of Swords. The traditional meaning of this card usually refers to an older woman who is logical and independent, someone who pays attention to facts. She can be seen as a bit cold, reserved. But if I were to forget the meaning of the card and just look at how this character is portrayed in this particular deck, I might notice that the clouds are really obvious here. Perhaps my character is a dreamer with her head in the clouds. I might also notice the crow in the background and the crow and butterfly on the throne. I could choose to give my character a pet crow. I could also think of what crows and butterflies symbolize for me personally and somehow weave these traits into my character's personality. I might even notice how the character is dressed and work this outfit into the story somehow. Does this make sense?

I used this technique for the novel I am currently writing and for the first time in a long time I'm really excited about writing. I've been writing every day; at the start of each day, I'm excited to start writing. I love this project I'm working on. The idea, to me, is new and exciting but also timeless.

I hope you try this for your next project, and it works as well for you as it did for me. If you have any questions pop them in the comments.

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