March 2019 archive

Tarot Writing Prompt: The Knight of … Writer’s Block?

SOMETIMES, I JUST WANT to give a tarot archetype a good shake! The Knight of Pentacles, for example. Sure, he’s got plenty of good qualities: He’s hard working, loyal, and reliable. You can trust him with your last dollar, which he’ll prudently invest for you.

But he’s so freakin’ cautious! Before taking any action, he’ll weigh every possible pro and con—leading you to ask, “How much research is really necessary before you just go to Best Buy and replace the microwave that blew up TWO MONTHS AGO?” (Did I mention I was married to this guy?)

His caution extends to writing, too. Under his influence, we might believe we should know exactly what we’re going to say before we commit so much as a word to the page. Which, for sure, will stop us dead in our writing tracks. For this reason, the Knight of Pentacles might well be the Patron Saint of Writer’s Block.

Tarot writing prompt

Making a list, checking it twice: Simple as it sounds, list-making is a stealth move that will help you slip beyond this knight’s too-careful sway. Put aside ten minutes and pick a topic. You might decide to create a shopping list for yourself or a character, or a list of your favorite girls’ names, or of a frenemy’s worst traits. How about a list of places you’ve lived? Or places you’d like to visit? Cats in your life? Street names in your subdivision? Super heroes? Planets (actual or fictional) most likely to support life?

Whatever you choose, the trick to truly inspired list-making is to push your brain past the obvious (hello, Mr. Knight?), which is what it will dole out at first. Do this by committing to a larger-than-reasonable number of items. So, once you’ve picked a topic, number your page from 1-50 and go! Then, when you’ve got your fifty, choose the most intriguing item from your list. Set a timer for five minutes and take off from that idea, writing as fast as you can. When the timer dings, pick another item and begin again.

Believe me, when you look up from this exercise, that stodgy Knight of Pentacles will be nowhere in sight. (Who knows? Maybe he’ll have finally ambled off to Best Buy!)

Novel-writing inspiration

The Poetry Foundation has a great little article by Michael McGriff on using list-making to rev your writing engine. It includes a two-part writing exercise that can help you dig deep while you’re moving fast!

The image of the Knight of Pentacles is from the ROBIN WOOD TAROT, published by Llewellyn Worldwide and used with Llewellyn’s kind permission.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: Desperately Seeking …

IT WAS SO FREAKIN’ COLD that day in the tiny Central Florida town of Oviedo that the anachronistic Oviedo chickens had huddled under the frost-bitten azaleas bordering the Ace Hardware parking lot and hunched in feathery clumps between oak tree roots.

A week before, I’d run a creativity workshop based on Julia Cameron’s ideas. Inspired by my own facilitation, I took myself on a combination Weekly Walk and Artist Date—to do just what I’d asked my workshop participants to do: walk, then jot down what I saw.

So, first there were the chickens.

After leaving them behind, I turned up Central Ave. and crossed a small bit of bridge (an asphalt hump, really, covering a concrete pipe through which a thread of brown water passed). There, I shared cold-weather pleasantries with a young black man on a bicycle, who paused—gloved, parka-ed, and balaclava-ed—to watch the trickle of rusty water lap against the rocks lining its narrow bed.

Bidding the young man goodbye, I wandered across North Central and through the sparse grove of oaks that separates Central from Geneva Drive. There, I came upon the white block Fountainhead Missionary Church with its thick panes of stained glass. How would the light  inside the sanctuary appear after traveling through those windows? I wondered. Would it be purple, like sacramental wine? Bottle green, like old hope? Deep sapphire, like a promise placed on a loved one’s hand?

Since there was no one around to let me in to see, I crossed Broadway to Blue Moon Antiques and Consignments. There, I overheard a nicely-suited, middle-aged guy telling the owner that his nineteen-year-old son, newly released from prison, had stolen, then hocked or sold, three boxes of his prized 1960s-1970s record albums, and that he was now touring Oviedo-area pawn shops, antique malls, and thrift stores trying to recover them. But, the store owner told him, shaking her head, none had made their way to the Blue Moon.

I stepped out of the shop just as the man eased his Taurus wagon slowly down the Blue Moon driveway and headed east for Chuluota.

From the wooden stoop, I waved at his rear-view … just in case he looked back.

Tarot writing prompts

The Eight of Cups is a wanderer. Seeking emotional fulfillment, she leave her past behind. She is guided on her quest by her imagination, by the possibilities that beckon from around the next curve in the road. And if she doesn’t find what she’s looking for, there? Welp, she’ll just keep on walking.

Here are three writing prompts inspired by the Eight of Cups.

PROMPT ONE: Write a series of three scenes about a character who sets off seeking something to fill an emotional gap in her life.

Scene 1: Demonstrate your character’s dissatisfaction with a specific situation—then show her walking out the (perhaps metaphorical) door in pursuit of something better.

Scene 2: Make sure to let the reader see what guides your character’s feet along her path. How does she decide where to go?

Scene 3: She’s discovered something! What is it? How did she stumble upon it? And does it really fulfill her unmet needs?

PROMPT TWO: If, on the other hand, like the “record salesman’s” father, your character is missing something specific—due to theft or carelessness—write a scene in which she traverses her neighborhood, trying to find what she’s lost.

PROMPT THREE: Or, perhaps, like me that day, she’s just wandering hoping something interesting will turn up. If so, what does turn up? And how does it change her life?

Novel-writing inspiration

Perhaps, as in the film DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, you might start your story with a character catching sight of an intriguing want ad. And why not cue up “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 for audio inspiration?

The image of the Eight of Cups is from the WITCHES TAROT, companion book by Ellen Dugan, art by Mark Evans, published by Llewellyn Worldwide, and used with Llewellyn’s kind permission.

Tarot Writing Prompt: If the Moon Were Your Writing Coach

AS WRITERS, WE MAY FIND we want to access our inner depths. Perhaps we need to discover what it is we truly want to say. Or maybe we find our work sounding stale, predictable, even clichéd. At such times, if tarot’s Moon were your writing coach, she’d counsel quiet and self-reflection. She’d suggest you allow your dreams to arise—as she does—in both the sky of your mind and in the quiet pond of your imagination. She’d ask you to contemplate your dreams and your writing by candlelight … or by her own white moth light.

While the Moon knows our inward travels may be fraught with misdirection and mystery, she trusts us to find our way through the dark, face what we discover there, and interpret our nighttime experiences in ways that will illuminate our waking lives and bring deeper wisdom to our creative work. If we explore our depths, rather than fretting about how to monetize our writing dreams too soon, she believes that what we bring forth under her gentle glow will emerge a-shimmer with the magic of our own inner light.

Tarot writing prompts

Taking a page from the Moon’s pillow book, try any of these exercises to dive deep into a character’s dreams … our your own.

1) Keep a dream journal for a month, a “moon.” (Take a look at this PSYCHOLOGY TODAY article for suggestions on how to do so.) At the end of the month, review your journal and see if any silvery, moonlit story ideas emerge.

2) Delve into a character’s psyche by keeping a dream journal for her! Let her reveal her hidden self to you through her dreams.

3) Moon-mapping: Write about an incident, fictional or otherwise, according to the phases of the moon.

  • New moon: the incident’s inception, its seed, how it starts
  • First quarter: how the incident gains traction, its early developments
  • Full moon: how the incident fulfills its initial promise (or threat)
  • Last quarter: how the incident and its effects wane
  • Dark of the moon: like the tide pulling back the ocean to reveal an altered shore, write about what’s left after it’s all over.

4) Write a scene that takes place in broad daylight. Rewrite the scene so it takes place by the barest gleam of the new crescent moon. What’s different?

5) Write a scene in which your character dreams about a situation from her waking life. Of course, dream-fashion, her sleeping self distorts the situation—but in a way that reveals a truth she hasn’t permitted herself to see till now. She wakes, journals about her dream—or tells it to someone—and then acts on the realization her dream has delivered to her. You, writer, take it from there.

Novel-writing inspiration

MARIANNE DREAMS, by Catherine Storr

THE PILLOW BOOK, by Sei Shonagon

THE ART OF DREAMING, by Carlos Castaneda

Thanks to Joanna Cheung for kind permission to use the image of The Moon from THE ANIMISM TAROT.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: A “Hero” and a “Villain” Walk into a Novel

LIKE THE SET-UP FOR A BARROOM JOKE, we begin our novels by collecting players: the hero, a good guy, aka protagonist; and the villain, a bad guy, aka antagonist, the one whose job it is to make things tough for our hero … just so she can outwit him and end up, well, a hero, at the end of the day. At least that’s how she sees it. But I’d bet good money our villain sees things quite differently!

“History,” they say, “is written by the victors.” Likewise, most novels are written if not by heroes, at least in sympathy with them. But what about the bad guy? Because, turn a story inside out, and we can see that the hero thwarts the villain’s aims just as surely as the villain thwarts the hero’s. Yet, where’s the sympathy for that?

For example, in this illustration, it’s clear the retreating figure in the red cape has done the good-looking guy in the blue cape wrong—ten-swords-in-the-back’s-worth of wrong! But what if there’s more to the story? What if, in his eagerness to forward his own goals, young Mr. Blue Cloak neglected to take Red Cloak’s rights into account?

What if, before things came to this terrible pass, Red Cloak had tried to assert her claims, but that darned Blue Cloak guy just ignored her and kept tromping towards his own goal, with no thought for how it was undermining hers? Sure, it’s a shame she had to stab handsome Mr. Blue Cloak in the back ten times. But from Red Cloak’s perspective, it may be she just did what she needed to do to protect her interests.

So, why, she wonders, won’t anyone else see it from her point of view?

Well, what if we did? What if we agreed there are two sides to every story: the hero’s and the villain’s? And which is which depends entirely on our point of view?

Tarot writing prompt

Scene 1: Give a character a goal. That’s your protagonist, your hero. Give a second character a goal diametrically opposed to that of the first character. That’s your antagonist, your villain. Her job is to actively counter your protagonist’s efforts. Write a scene in which their competing goals force them head to head. This time, do so from your protagonist’s point of view, creating as much sympathy as possible for her.

Scene 2: Now, reverse their roles, writing about the same situation from the antagonist’s point of view. Show exactly how the former hero’s actions towards her goal undermine the former antagonist’s progress towards her goal. Make us sympathize with the former villain as much as we did with the hero when we were reading the previous scene.

This exercise could be good practice for writing, say, a psychological thriller, perhaps a story in which you want to keep your characters’ respective good-guy/bad-guy roles a mystery at first. In that case, you might want your reader to start by sympathizing with one character, only to realize that she is actually a freakin’ psychopath, who has been playing not only the other characters in the story, but your reader, as well. Then, maybe, the character who was wrongly perceived steps forward into protagonist-hood and heroically saves her own bacon!

Or vice-versa. Because, as I might have mentioned, “History is written by the victors.”

Novel-writing inspiration

Want to check out a couple of novels that turn the antagonist/protagonist dynamic on its conventional head? Try Gregory Maguire’s WICKED and his CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER.

You might also find this Wikipedia article about The Rolling Stones song “Sympathy with the Devil” interesting. Dark and challenging, perhaps, but interesting.

The image of the Ten of Swords, above, is from the EVERYDAY WITCH TAROT deck, written by Deborah Blake and published by Llewellyn Worldwide, and is used here with kind permission by EWT deck artist, Elisabeth Alba.

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