Writing With Tarot: Building Character
A person is stuck in your head. You see them when you close your eyes, when you gaze unfocused into space, and even when you’re being productive. This person, however, is not your partner, your child, or even an unrequited love. They’re a character in a story yet to be written. They invade your thoughts, demanding to be seen and heard.
In life, character is revealed through choices made. As writers, our characters also reveal themselves by the choices they make in the story. Using tarot to breathe life into a character can help shape both the relationships as well as the plot.
Start with Introductions
All relationships begin with introductions. Why would you begin relationships with your characters, who you will likely spend a significant amount of time with, any other way? Tarot cards can help not only get to know a character but also form a deep connection.
First impressions are key in all relationships and begin with basic information: gender, age, personality.
While cards in traditional decks often depict a human figure with a predetermined gender, many modern decks are interpreted as gender-neutral. You can choose to stick with the traditional interpretation, or use a modern deck to determine whether the character’s energy feels neutral, feminine, masculine, or something else entirely.
A character’s age can be deduced based on the card’s position in the sequence. In the pips, or numbered cards, lower numbers can represent younger, or less mature, characters. While higher numbers can indicate a matured or wizened character. In court cards, pages are youthful with a sense of naïveté, Jacks are in the midst of action, while Queens and Kings have learned their lessons and grown with their kingdoms. This metaphor can apply to your characters, whether your story contains pages, jacks, queens, or kings, or any representation thereof.
The card’s sequential order can also be interpreted as a character’s point on their journey rather than their age. Aces generally represent beginnings while higher numbers indicate a fulfillment or completion.
Additionally, the symbols in the cards are excellent tools to paint a personality portrait. By determining which suit best represents a character you can identify their emotional drives, motivations, and standard method for operation.
- Pentacles – The suit of the earth element. Grounded. Stable. Interested in material things and security.
- Swords – The suit of the air element. Intellectual. Logical. Interested in language and communication.
- Wands – The suit of the fire element. Passionate. Driven. Interested in goals and desires.
- Cups – The suit of the water element. Emotional. Imaginative. Interested in relationships and creativity.
As you select cards, set aside your logical brain and use your creative intuition to piece together the symbols in the ones you’re drawn to. This process can identify what drives a character.
Here are a few additional questions for the cards to get to know any of your characters. Draw as many cards or ask as many questions as you need to bring your character to life:
- Where does this character fit in your cast?
- What is their home life like?
- Do they have a spouse?
- Do they have children?
- Do they have a sidekick or pet?
- What do they do for fun or entertainment?
- What is their occupation?
- How do they feel about their occupation?
- What do they desire most from life?
- What are their biggest fears?
- How does their zodiac sign shape their behavior?
- How does their childhood affect their present?
- What was their first memory?
- Why is it their first memory?
- What is their physical appearance?
- What identities do they embrace most fully?
- Are they a public figure?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
Once you’ve determined some of their main traits, you might be drawn to identify a single card that seems to embody the character. This card, known as a signifier, can be pulled from the deck and set to the side to set the energy of follow-up readings.
Spreads for Character Development
Try any or all of these spreads, drawing one card for each element in a reading to further develop your characters.
- Charcter’s lifestyle – Personal life, professional life, inner/emotional life.
- Character’s Growth – Beginning state, internal conflict, external conflict, ending state.
- Character Motivations – Character’s goal, Character’s “why” for wanting this goal, what will happen if they succeed, what will happen if they fail.
- Identify your Cast (each card represents a character): Protagonist, antagonist, supporting character.
Now it’s your turn. Try these tarot readings and spreads to get to know a character, then use your creative mind to interview them. Identify a signifier card to represent them, pull the card from your deck and set it out beside your writer’s journal. Ask your character to tell you about themselves. Allow them to use their voice as you breathe life into them on the page.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, Plotting Stories with Tarot.
Happy writing and reading!
Feature photo by Haley P. Law.