A Novel That’s a Tarot Writing Prompt: Story Archetypes

LIKE THE YOUNGEST SON OF FAIRY-TALE FAME, the tarot Fool leaps into whatever wild undertaking has captured his imagination—and thus begins his journey. Similar to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, or Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, the quest the Fool embarks upon is called “the Fool’s Journey.” On his path, he meets—and is schooled by—the other cards in tarot’s major arcana, figures like the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Hermit.

The impulsive young hero at the center of THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO, a historical novel by Karen Engelmann, is an eighteenth-century secretaire named Emil Larsson, who is also on a Fool’s journey of sorts. Emil’s journey starts when mysterious psychic (and Swedish Royalist) Mrs. Sparrow lays tarot cards for Emil in a pattern she calls “the Octavo.”

This layout consists of a central card, which represents Emil, surrounded by eight additional cards, that, Mrs. Sparrow explains, signify people and events Emil will encounter as he fulfills his destiny. Dealt randomly into their positions, these eight cards stand for what she calls a Companion, a Prisoner, a Teacher, a Courier, a Trickster, a Magpie, a Prize, and a Key. It’s up to Emil to distinguish who is whom and which is which!

Tarot writing prompt

As befits an idea that sustains a 400-page novel, this is a long-ish prompt. You might dive in and work through all the steps in one go (long weekend, anyone?). Or perhaps you’d prefer to proceed as Mrs. Sparrow did, when she doled out her reading for Emil, one card at a time, over eight consecutive nights.

Alternatively, of course, you can just dip in when you’re stuck mid-draft and need some literary fuel to get your story back on the road.

PICK AND CHOOSE: To start, you’ll need a pool of images to choose from. A tarot deck is ideal, but so is a stack of intriguing pictures torn from magazines. (If you’re going the magazine route, find at least twenty pictures to work with.) Sort through your images and find one to represent your main character, your Hero. Lay that image on a flat surface with room around it for the rest of its Octavo.

UPSIDE DOWN, BOY YOU’RE TURNING ME: Next, lay the rest of the images face down. Blindly, choose eight images from your upside-down deck or stack of magazine pics. (The point is to make yourself pick these eight images randomly.) For now, set these images aside without turning them over to peek.

ARTS AND CRAFTS TIME: Write the titles of the following eight story archetypes (which differ somewhat from those Mrs. Sparrow assigned to Emil’s cards) on eight small sticky notes:

  • Prize (what the Hero wants most; that for which he quests)
  • Herald (the character or event that reveals the quest to the Hero)
  • Antagonist (also, “Villain”; a person or force hostile to the Hero, which actively attempts to stop the Hero from completing his quest; does not need to be a person: for instance, might be a forest fire or a political situation)
  • Guardian (also, “Threshold Guardian”; ensures your Hero is worthy of crossing the threshold into their quest, proper; to do so, creates obstacles to the Hero early on that test the Hero’s mettle)
  • Sidekick (a best-friend archetype, who, notably, gets sidelined somewhere in the thick of the action)
  • Precious Child (a vulnerable story element; could be an animal, child, or family farm, for instance, which the Hero treasures and which the Antagonist threatens, raising the story stakes and tension)
  • Trickster (an unreliable, self-dealing character who creates story confusion; whose side is the Trickster really on? Maybe even the Trickster doesn’t know for sure.)
  • Mentor (a character whose story-relevant knowledge and skills are far more advanced than the Hero’s and who guides the Hero at pivotal points in his quest; notably, the Mentor must be absent at the story’s climax, so the Hero has to face the Antagonist in that final battle on his own)

Turn over your eight set-aside images, now, and randomly affix the archetype-stickies to them. (This randomness makes the story more true to our experience, as we seldom know what role a new acquaintance will play in our life or what effect an unforeseen event might have!)

RING AROUND THE ROSY (-CHEEKED HERO): Now, lay the stickied images around the one representing your Hero. Bravo! You’ve created your Hero’s Octavo!

READY, STEADY, GO! Write one scene for each archetype. Through your Hero’s eight in-scene interactions, be sure to show how his quest is affected by each of the people and/or situations represented by the image and archetype it’s been assigned.

Since these archetypes are present in most stories, once you’ve written your way through all eight interactions, you might find—voila!—you are well on your way to a draft of a novel or novella! Certainly, it’s a good weekend’s worth of work (because you and I both know the lawn—and the dishes and the bills and the litter box—can wait ’til next week).

Novel-writing inspiration (and blog-posting appreciation!)

If you’re new to the idea of story archetypes, a quick digest of a few of them is available at Graeme Shimmin’s site. You’ll find a more in-depth consideration in this Hillsborough Community College PDF.

Or dive deep into Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. (You won’t be sorry. Tired, maybe. But not sorry!)

There’s a lovely NEW YORK TIMES book review of THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO by Susann Cokal.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for their kind permission to use images from the RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT for my Octavo example. I’m also grateful to Illustrator Dylan Meconis, whose image of Luther as the Fool accompanies this post.

Finally, thanks to George and Sal, who knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a story based on a tarot spread.

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Naming Characters: A Novel-Writing Game for Memoirists

THERE’S A FERAL KITTEN living in my back yard. She’s one of a small community of cats I feed. They’ve all been neutered, and a handful of kittens have been adopted out, too. For the most part, the cats that have returned come and go—and I remain unattached.

But not so with little Button. I named her on the way back from a vet appointment, where it was determined she was too young for a rabies shot and would need to live in my bathroom for a month before she could be spayed and inoculated. I called a friend to report this—and that the kitten now had a name: Button.

Once Button returned to the yard, I told the same friend I was particularly concerned about this kitten’s well-being. My friend said, “Of course you are. You named her Button.”

Right. I named her—and adorably—and now she lives both physically, in my yard, and vividly, in my imagination. This is the power of naming.

This same friend is named “Mary Katherine,” a moniker about which she is not thrilled. She’d be happy as a “Kate,” but her family has always called her “Mary.” Now, at fifty, she’s stuck with it, and perhaps in the role her family imagines for her, too.

If naming something makes it ours, naming something correctly gives it a life of its own.

Memoir to novel: “A” my name is …

When we’re fictionalizing our lives, using them for novel-writing fodder, the first thing we might do is find a name for our main character that differentiates her from us. This gives her some breathing room, lets her live out her story on her own terms. It creates the possibility that the story we’re telling—even though based in our own experience—could come to surprise us.

Maybe we give our fictionalized self a name that reflects a trait we wish we had. If I were to write a novel using my life as a starting point, I’d likely name my main character “Claire.” I’d do this in hopes she would understand the roads I’ve traveled more “clearly” than I do. That facing at least some of the crossroads I’ve faced, she’d make clearer-eyed choices than I did—choices that would take her down different paths than those I followed. I’d be fascinated to see where such clarity might have led me.

Writer friend Jill Louise, after working on what she believed to be a non-autobiographical novel for ten years, suddenly realized (after ten years!) she’d actually named her main character for the small Midwestern town in which she herself was raised. Oops.

Jill says she now sees this character as representative of her entire life growing up—“the thing that I left,” as she put it. From this, she learned: “You can’t get away from it. You can’t actually write something that’s not about you.”

And then there’s Sarah (not her real name, but a true story). Sarah is a client of mine who is writing a wonderful, wildly fictionalized version of her life—and who has recently changed her main character’s name to one more distinct from “Sarah” than that which she first bestowed on the character.

I’m not sure if changing her main character from “Shari” to “Consuelo” was what turned the tide, but it’s a fact that, recently, Sarah sent Consuelo to face a fictional challenge similar to one in Sarah’s actual life. It’s also a fact that, after writing the scene in which Consuelo meets her antagonist head on and triumphs, Sarah did the same in real life.

Go, Consuelo. Go, Sarah!!


Natalie Goldberg says, “Writers live twice.” With that in mind, name your characters (and your kittens) well. Then, in your second life on the page, let them go forth and do what may have seemed impossible to you the first time around, when you were committed to being the person who carried the name with which you were born.

Novel-writing inspiration

WRITER’S DIGEST article “The 7 Rules for Picking Names for Fictional Characters,” by my pal Elizabeth Sims, is a great starting place for thinking through some character-naming strategies.

Need more? With over 25,000 character names, THE CHARACTER NAMING SOURCEBOOK, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, might put its figurative finger on the handle that best suits your character.

And if you’re turning your life into a medieval tale? Check out NAME YOUR MEDIEVAL CHARACTER, by Joyce DiPastena.

Finally, when I told After Fifty Adventureman, Hugh Holborn, about this post, he steered me toward Robert Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND because of the number of significantly-named characters the story includes. If you’re interested in learning about some of these names, you’ll find a discussion in Anjelica Mantikas’s article in Shadows of Light: Exploring the Tradition of Utopian and Dystopian Thought. Scroll down to the second paragraph of section III, Historical context and religious references.

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Invisible Ink: Writing Practice, Journaling, and Morning Pages

WHEN WE WRITE WORDS NO ONE ELSE WILL EVER READ—during our writing practice, in our journals, or as part of our morning pages—we might as well be using invisible ink. Yet, despite not having an audience, those words do have an effect. On us.

With no imaginary reader peering over our shoulder, we may dig into deeper truths than if we think someone will judge what we say. With no one to frown at our antics, we can be wild, exaggerated, unbound on the page—free to scrawl out first thoughts and leap to extravagant associations, rather than just dishing up what’s expected of us.

Writing practice

Maybe we use our invisible ink for writing practice, setting a timer, writing as fast as we can about a topic we want to explore, and not stopping until the bell dings.

What’s the hurry? We need to outrun the censor, scribble right past the spots our inner critic wants to stop us. Once we’re beyond his reach, chances are we’ll stumble onto something crisp and new, something that belongs just to us—something the censor considers dangerous, but which we know carries a vital charge.

Then we can bring this dynamic material back to a piece for our readers, where it will liven the same-old/same-old with the citrus-y tang of a fresh idea!

Keeping a journal

We might also keep a journal to record events of our lives. A daily digest of what we’ve done and how we feel about it can generate great trust within us. And a journal can also be both a record to look back on and a foundation for any other writing we want to do. Because once we’re in the habit of writing at all, all writing becomes easier to tackle.

Morning pages

At first glance, committing to morning pages—three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing—looks a lot like writing practice or journaling. But different from either, morning pages are meant to be written and then forgotten.

Personally, I just dump the contents of my brain on the page every morning for about thirty minutes and toss out my spiral-bound morning-pages notebooks as I fill them. I never mine them for ideas for articles or books. Still, reliably (as I mention in A Book Can Be Your Writing Coach), morning pages free me up for other writing tasks.

Tarot writing prompt

In this Eight of Pentacles, a journeyman works solo, laying one brick at a time to create the structure shown in his blueprint. He is diligent, focused, and committed. No one watches or praises him. Yet he is dedicated to his task—and will learn from it whatever it has to teach him.

Your mission, if you accept it, is to commit to making personal writing a priority for eight consecutive days. Then, assess your experience. What, if anything, has it taught you? Did you receive benefits you didn’t expect?

Like the steady-going figure in the Eight of Pentacles building his wall brick by brick, a regular personal writing practice builds our literary confidence—not just in invisible ink, but in the words we write for others, as well.

Journal-writing inspiration

Check out these three diaries which, originally private, have been published (turning the idea of “invisible ink” on its head). A peek at these writers’ intimate thoughts may offer you inspiration to continue with your own private writing practice.

Thanks to Cassandra at QuickTarotReading for kind permission to use the image of the Eight of Pentacles from her wonderful EVOLUTIONARY OPTIONS TAROT.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: The Active Hero Rides Again

AT SOME POINT EARLY IN YOUR NOVEL, your main character will declare herself: She’ll either enter the action as a reluctant hero or an active one. Reluctant heroes are a pain in the tuchus. They require all sorts of cajoling and stakes-raising to get them into action.*

But if you have an active hero on your hands, she’s going to do half the work for you. In her eagerness to save the day (or the world), she’ll happily get herself in loads of trouble! Like the Knight of Wands, she’ll routinely jump off a cliff, chase the bad guys, storm the castle, and just generally splash around in all the hot water she can find—all in the name of adventure.

* Here’s a link to a writing prompt that can help you push your reluctant hero where she’s loathe to go: A Horse to Water.

Tarot writing prompt

Pick your hero: Do you want to write about a time you yourself boldly tromped in where angels feared to tread? Or is there a figure from history whose fierce exploits you’d like to explore? Or do you have a fictional hero jittering about in the gate already, just itching for you to pull the trigger on the starting gun?

Let ’em leap: What situation does your real or fictional hero face? Be sure to give her something to dig her well-sharpened teeth into—something no reluctant hero would touch with the longest pole ever made!

For instance,

  • is she taking on a tough court battle, representing a client her older/wiser colleagues see as a really bad bet—and risking her reputation to do so?
  • or is she on a quest to retrieve a painting the Nazis stole from her family almost a century before—and facing a lot of (dangerous) political blow-back as she does?
  • or, having learned to fly a plane, has she decided that if an around-the-world solo flight was good enough for Amelia Earhart, it’s good enough for her, as well?

Don’t stop now!: Like that ol’ Knight of Wands, take it from here: Leap into action with your character and ride your new story at a flat-out gallop to the very end!

Novel-writing inspiration

If you’d like some tales of fiery heroines to fuel your own protagonist’s flame, here are three to get you started.

DREAMING THE EAGLE (Boudica Trilogy), by Manda Scott

Dreaming the Eagle is the first part of the gloriously imagined epic trilogy of the life of Boudica. She is the last defender of the Celtic culture in Britain: the only woman openly to lead her warriors into battle, she stands successfully against the might of Imperial Rome—and triumphs. Also known as Boudicea, her name gives us the word bodacious!

JANE EYRE, by Charlotte Bronte

No. Seriously. If you haven’t read JANE EYRE, it’s so freakin’ good. And Jane herself is simply a mid-19th-century bad-ass.

JOAN JETT, by Todd Oldham

Rock-and-roll goddess Joan Jett started her first band, The Runaways, at fifteen and blazed a trail that inspired and thrilled her fans.This book chronicles her career—from forming The Runaways to her years with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. With an introduction by Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna.

Rock on! And keep these knight-esses in your heart and mind as you send your own heroine boldly into battle.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for their kind permission to use the image of the Knight of Wands from the RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: The Nine of Friends

TODAY, MY WEBSITE IS BROKEN. Well. Cracked. It’s a thing I just discovered. And I feel as helpless about it as the little guy in this card feels about his broken purple cup. Fortunately, like that little guy, I am not alone in my predicament. My website creator, the fabulous card reader Melissa Jo Hill, is ON IT!! Which, thank God. Because, I’m just not.

Nor am I on the SEO/marketing part of my business. But excellent-writer-in-many-genres (and also publisher) pal Tia Levings is. And brilliant, cat-loving, speculative-fiction-writing Mary K Swanson (no period after the “K”) has my techno-helpless butt covered when it comes to computer software and hardware. Thank GOD!!

And this list of good and helpful friendliness doesn’t even include Mr. After Fifty Adventureman, Hugh Holborn, who came down yesterday for a confab about his adventurous memoir-in-progress—and brought a can of WD 40, a metal brush, and a bucketful of tools to fix my garage door.

With friends and colleagues like these, my various broken cups and garage doors and computers don’t stay so for long. So I wasn’t all that surprised when I turned over the strange Nine of Cups (above) last night.

You see, the tarot Nine of Cups is usually associated with the sense of well-being that comes with having enough (as illustrated by this traditional—slightly smug—image from the Rider Waite Smith Tarot), not with the comfort of friendship.

But the card from the PHANTASMAGORIC THEATER TAROT (top) goes its own way, and depicts a community gathered in support of one of its members, rather than a single person self-satisfied with his cups.

That first image reminds me that neither my wealth nor my well-being lie in the material or technological or cyber-ish things I lean so heavily on, but in my friendships. As an old pal used to say, “Our most reliable ‘social security’ is actually our community, not what (we hope!) the government has tucked away on our behalf.”

Tarot writing prompt

Your character (or you!) has gotten into a jam (always good for story-telling, right?). Something’s broken. Irrevocably. Something in which she (you?) is very much invested. Is it a precious object? A part of her anatomy? A relationship? Decide … and then write the following:

1) A scene in which you show us exactly how deeply your character is invested in the object/anatomical part/relationship—and why! (What’s at stake?)

2) A scene in which we witness the object (or ???) breaking.

3) A final scene in which your character’s community rallies to help her (you?) mourn the irrevocable brokeness—and helps her take steps to move beyond the loss.

Novel-writing inspiration

Want some literary inspiration? Check out the novel THE BOWL IS ALREADY BROKEN, by Mary Kay Zuravleff.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for their kind permission to use the images of the Nine of Cups from the PHANTASMAGORIC THEATER TAROT and THE RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT. 

Tarot Prompts You to Submit Your Writing: Contests and Calls for Submission

SWIFTNESS, CHANGE, OPPORTUNITY, MESSAGES ON THE WIND. Tarot’s Eight of Wands speaks to all of these. It’s a communicative card. It can signal the sudden appearance of new connections, information, or direction.

If you got the Eight of Wands in a tarot reading, the turbaned, hoop-earringed Gypsy turning your cards might say, “Favorable circumstances are flying toward you! Avail yourself of them, and positive changes are likely to occur.”

I’m not (currently) wearing a turban—or even my hoop earrings—but accept this message as if I were. Because, with this post, the Eight of Wands is delivering a quiverful of opportunities: It’s time to send your writing soaring out on the winds of literary chance!

Writing contests

Forthwith, in the spirit of the Eight of Wands, I present to you eight (and a half) writing contests—in order of deadline.

1) The Roswell Award, presented by the Light Bringer Project

The Roswell Award for short science fiction is an international competition. Finalists are read by celebrity guests at LitFest Pasadena. Submission closes January 28, 2019.

2) The Masters Review Winter Short Story Award for New Writers

This prize recognizes the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. In addition to cash prizes, winning stories and any notable Honorable Mentions will receive agency review. Submissions close January 31, 2019.

3) New Beginnings Short Story Competition

Accepting short stories in English from anywhere in the world in any genre. 2500 word maximum. Submissions close January 31, 2019.

4a) FanStory 100 Word Writing Contest

Write a flash fiction story on any topic that uses exactly 100 words. $100 first-place prize. Feedback on all stories. Submissions close February 12, 2019.

4b) FanStory 20 Syllable Poetry Contest

Write a poem—any structure, any word count—with exactly 20 syllables. $100 first-place prize. Feedback on all poems. Submissions close February 17, 2019.

5) Snowbound Chapbook Award, presented by Tupelo Press

Includes a cash award of $1,000, publication by Tupelo Press, a book launch, and national distribution. Submissions close February 28, 2019.

6) 2019 Screenwriting Contest, presented by Script Pipeline

Now in its seventeenth year, the Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition seeks talented writers. They focus on finding writers representation, supporting diverse voices, championing unique storytelling, and pushing more original projects into production. Early submissions close March 1, 2019.

7) Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, presented by Aesthetica Magazine

The award celebrates excellence in poetry and short fiction, supporting new writing talent and presenting writers with a fantastic opportunity to further their involvement in the literary world. Submissions close August 2019.

8) Poets and Writers

And if that weren’t enough, the P&W writing contests, grants, and awards database has details about the creative writing contests—including poetry contests, short story competitions, essay contests, awards for novels, and more—that have been published in the magazine during the past year. They carefully review each contest before including it. Theirs is the most trusted resource for legitimate writing contests available anywhere.


Consider this a literary public service announcement from the Eight of Wands: Submit your poetry, short stories, flash fiction, chap books, screenplays, personal essays, and novels, now!

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for their kind permission to use the image of the Eight of Wands from the RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: One Plus One Equals Story!

REMEMBER THE TIME YOUR BEST FRIEND WAS DROWNING IN HER LONG-HELD SADNESS? And you called and said, “Hey, let’s go for a walk”? But her sadness told her she couldn’t even get out of bed? But then she did get out of bed and you guys did go for a walk? And on that walk you asked her to talk about the sad things? And she did? And then you said, “Well, what if you just …?” And she said, “Yeah, I could just …!” Then suddenly, the clouds hanging over her head parted and the sun reappeared?

Well, that’s the story I saw when I looked at these side-by-side images from the enchanting SASURAIBITO TAROT: I saw the clear-eyed Page of Swords disrupting the entrenched sorrow of the girl in the Five of Cups; I saw her slicing right through the mood that’s been holding that girl captive.

Tarot Writing Prompt

What story do you see in these cards? Do you think the Page is helping the other character shift her perspective? Or is the Page acting aggressively towards her? Or maybe something entirely different is happening here!

Write a quick scene that tells the story these images evoke from you.

Did you notice the tension between the two images creating a dynamic pull? One that almost writes a story for you—or at least gives you a very good start? Tarot images are ideal to use in this way because tarot is intended to be dynamic, evocative, powerful—especially when the cards are viewed in combination.

(In my experience, however, “oracle decks” or “angel decks,” which may be great for personal inspiration, are often not as creatively provocative as actual tarot cards. Read this Biddy Tarot post to learn more about the difference.)

Now, grab two of your own tarot cards and start a new story. (If you don’t have a tarot deck, you can find a boatload of tarot images online or, alternatively, tear a couple of interesting pictures from a magazine and use those.)

Once your new story is started, you can keep it going by adding another card … and another … and another—writing scene after scene fueled by the tension(s) created by the juxtaposition of each card to the one before it. Because, as Noah figured out while herding the creatures up the gangway to his ark, magic—energy! spark! procreation!!—happens two, by two, by two, by two.

Thanks to Stasia Burrington for her gracious permission to use images from her SASURAIBITO TAROT. 

Tarot and Writing and Dragons: Deep Work

MY FRIEND TIA LEVINGS WAS JUST INTERVIEWED FOR A NOT NOSY PODCASTAmong wide-ranging topics, Tia talked about DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport (find your way to 47:21 to hear that part of the conversation) and how applying Newport’s principles to her writing process has helped her, well, get a lot of freakin’ writing done!

Listening to Tia, I took away a key message—and not a new one: To get the writing done, we have to prioritize the writing.

It may seem that prioritizing simply means allocating sufficient time. But I’ve found there’s another aspect of the getting-writing-done equation that is as important to me as the number of hours I devote: It’s the creative energy I bring to my writing, my magical inner fire. If I’ve burned all of my creative fuel for the day—used it up on intense conversations with friends or the focused critique of another writer’s work—by 7:00 p.m., although there are seemingly two or three usable hours left in the day, I’ll have no heat left to create within those hours.

And I’m in good company! Author Ann Beattie, having just published her short-story collection PARK CITY, told a writerly audience that she has to be very careful about talking deeply with someone else about their writing when she is working on a manuscript, herself. “The part of me that writes doesn’t care whose writing gets attended to,” she said. “Once someone’s writing has been addressed, my inner writer packs it in. It’s finished for the day.”

Tarot on writing

For me, the Two of Wands from the CRYSTAL VISIONS TAROT nicely illustrates the choice we writers have to make about where to place our creative energy, our fire, every day. In it, we find a young knight astride his dragon, holding a crystal-topped wand in either hand. These wands represent two options, the two places to which he could direct his fiery steed.

Like the knight, each day we get the chance (maybe several chances) to choose where we will commit the dragon of our energy. The more conscious we are of these moments of choice, the better able we are to choose to do the deep work.

Tonight, I was reminded—by Tia, by Ann Beattie, and by this young CRYSTAL VISION’s knight—that I had a choice. So, instead of tuning into THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW and devoting what was left of my energy to fueling my righteous indignation, I chose to invest my evening’s dragon in writing this post.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems for permission to use this image from the CRYSTAL VISIONS TAROT by Jennifer Galasso.

Writing a Novel? Tarot’s Two Cents

BE IN NO RUSH TO REVEAL ALL AT ONCE! Be free and let life find its own pace. I am patience, and I am fruition’s reward. In me you will find the fertile ground in which to plant your seed and the patience to watch it grow to abundance. 

So says The Empress, in Emily Carding’s TAROT OF THE SIDHE—expressing sentiments with which no first-time novelist has ever agreed. Not once.

I sympathize. The fact that things take time can be infuriating. But, as the King of Prussia says (over and over) in AMADEUS, “There it is.”

This makes me think of my friend Mel, who is healing from hip surgery. She’s young, so she’s healing relatively quickly. But evidently not quickly enough. “I didn’t know it was going to take so much time,” she cried plaintively last week, after the drugs—and the novelty—wore off.

Like Mel to her repaired hip, new writers often come to a novel-writing coach astride a straight-ahead steamroller called Let’s get ‘er done. But (like Mel!) when they begin to understand that, as with most big endeavors, chances are good it won’t be quick—that they won’t be writing their book just once, from beginning to end—they ask, understandably, “Well, how long? Like, a few months? Six months? A year?!?”

And that’s when I have to share the awful truth, the thing none of us—not me, not Mel, not a new novelist—wants to hear: Things take the time they take.

We can stamp our feet (not you, Mel) and declare whatever ultimatum we want to our creative (or healing) process: “Well, I’m going to have it done by June.” Or Christmas. Or the family reunion (so I have something to show after all these years!). And if it’s not finished by then? “I’m going to _________ (fill in the blank: quit? throw the laptop out the window? get a job at Walmart?).”

But none of that sways the process. It will take the time it takes.

What does help, as I’ve learned by painful trial and error, is staying the course. Riding that darned steamroller to the end of the tarmac—no matter how seemingly endless the runway. Because, while art (or healing) may require more patience from us than we feel we can muster, the rewards of both are great.

And if that is not consolation enough, maybe this is: Our above-quoted Empress also says, You are safe in my hands as you grow and journey towards completeness. I will support you and bring you all sustenance, that you may bring the same to others.

Thanks to Emily Carding for her permission to share The Empress from her Tarot of the Sidhe (Schiffer Publishing) and to quote from the text. 

Tarot Writing Prompt: If the Wheel of Fortune Were Your Writing Coach

IF THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE WERE YOUR WRITING COACH, it would remind you (perhaps a little smugly) that for every up—in your mood, your writing fortunes, in your book’s acceptance by the public or by agents—there will be a down. The Wheel would mention that all fame is temporary, all luck a roll of the dice. The only constant is change, the Wheel of Fortune would assure you. It’s the way of the world. And depending where you found yourself at that particular moment, that assurance might encourage you—or it might make you feel a little anxious about what the next turn of the wheel could bring.

Fortunately, we have w-a-y more control over our characters’ lives than we seem to have  (at least some days) over our own. This prompt will give you a chance to spin the wheel wildly in one character’s favor … but not so much in another’s. Enjoy wielding your power!

Tarot Writing Prompt

Imagine the view one character has from the “top” of a situation. Is she an elected official? Is he the boss? Or just a bossy older brother? Write a quick scene that gives us a feeling of his or her top-dog perspective.

Now, imagine a second character who is experiencing the same situation from the “bottom.” The personal assistant? The beleaguered younger brother? The stay-at-home spouse who has to smile too widely for too long at public rallies? Write the same scene, but from that character’s perspective.

Finally, write a scene in which the two characters’ relative fortunes spin, leaving their status exchanged, so the original top dog is face down on the bottom of the heap, while the underdog is enjoying his or her (temporary) cat-bird seat.

Novel-writing inspiration

Need a couple of examples for inspiration? Check out THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, by Mark Twain, and the absolutely golden chapter on status and character relationships in IMPRO: Improvisation and the Theatre, by Keith Johnstone. 

The image above is from THE WISDOM SEEKER’S TAROT, by David Fontana, published by Watkins Publishing.

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