Posts Tagged ‘prompts’

Writing Prompt: Thankful

Today we’ll use the writing prompt: thankful

IT’S BEEN A TOUGH YEAR. You’ve probably heard that at least a thousand times. But it’s true. And that toughness can lend a dark and uneasy tone to our lives.

But here comes Thanksgiving to remind us of our blessings. And why not? Even if there’s no turkey (bird or vegan) for our tables, even if our families (of origin or choice) are unable to join us to raise a glass, even if we have sustained devastating loss over the last few hundred days, still, we can—if we wish—look around and find something to be thankful for.

And doing so seems to be good for us! According to an article in FORBES, focusing on gratitude improves not only our psychological well-being, but our physical health. Feeling thankful may also help us sleep better and think better. And, certainly, it inclines us more positively toward ourselves and our fellow humans.

Writing prompts for gratitude

We writers often make sense of things by writing. So here are a handful of prompts to support you if you feel the need to shift your gaze from what’s not working to what is.

1) Start a gratitude journal. Making a daily list of three to five things we’re grateful for is a simple but effective way to keep gratitude alive in our hearts.

2) Write about a time when something wonderful happened (expected or not). Remembering any boon—from the timely discovery of a much-needed twenty-dollar bill to learning that a loved one’s health concern ended up being nothing for concern at all—reminds us that, like rays of sunshine, moments of well-being can break through the cloudiest of times.

3) Create a dour character who, like Eeyore, sees life as an endless series of difficulties. Put that character in unavoidable proximity to a person you might call a “Pollyanna,” someone who is unremittingly cheerful. Perhaps they become roommates or cubicle mates; or maybe Pollyanna marries into Eeyore’s close-knit family. Or they’re stuck in an elevator together! Or on a three-hour tour“!

However you glue them together, let Pollyanna’s sunny outlook eventually push your Eeyore to a change of attitude. (This may take considerable doing. All the better for dramatic tension!)

4) Write about a random act of kindness and its unexpected, far-reaching effect. This can be something you did for someone else, or a kindness you received. You might also use this idea to launch a short story!

5) List your own good qualities, attributes of yours for which you’re grateful. Dig deep! Don’t be modest. In addition, you could list the ten best qualities of some of those closest to you. Bonus: Make any of these lists into a poem!

These prompts are just jump-starts, a handful of ways you might incorporate gratitude and thankfulness into your writing. They aren’t (necessarily) meant to elicit high literary art. They are meant to remind you of what’s going right in your world and send you into your day (or into your dreams) with a lighter heart.

And that’s something to be thankful for.

Writing resources

Here are some books I turn to when I need to boost my gratitude practice. In them, you’ll find folks whose compassion and generosity and appreciation of the everyday world make their own and others’ lives better.

HUMANS, Brandon Stanton

PUT YOUR HEART ON PAPER, Henriette Anne Klauser

29 GIFTSCami Walker

POEMCRAZY, Susan G. Wooldridge

GOOD DAYS START WITH GRATITUDE (a journal), Pretty Simple Press

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

* * *

Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of the Three of Cups card from the ANNA.K TAROT.  

Teacher’s Pet: A Tarot Writing Prompt

IN TAROT CIRCLES, the Hierophant, also known as the Pope, can get a bad rap—for being an uber-conservative, repressive, by-the-book sort of guy. But, really, he might just represent any clergy person, mentor, or teacher—however rule-bound or not. And I’ve had some great teachers!

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Nethercote, for instance, gave me props for my mad reading skills. The next year, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith (who looked like Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), thought I was a fine communicator and took the time to introduce me as such to my third-grade teacher, who subsequently always listened to what I had to say!

High school was tough, but my tenth-grade English teacher, whose name is lost to memory (and to various adolescent indulgences), was a bright light, encouraging my poetry-writing. In Seattle, at Shoreline Community College, theater instructor Charlie gave me a directorial role, saying she thought I had leadership potential.

As I make this list, other teachers—a horseback-riding instructor, an art teacher, a math professor—arrive at the threshold of my mind, nodding approval across the years. Their long-remembered encouragement has boosted my self-esteem and bolstered my belief in my own abilities when I’ve needed it most.

This, then, is a thank you to them all.

WRITING PROMPT

Revisit your memory of a supportive teacher—or create such a champion in the life of a character who could benefit from one just about now.

Alternatively, if your life has been stingy regarding mentors, consider this your chance to rewrite history and provide yourself one you wish you’d had. Once you’ve got him or her on the page, let your self-created mentor provide a bit of guidance. Chances are it will be some of the best advice you’ve ever received!

When I told my art pal Paula Jeffery about this prompt, she shared this poem with me:

Just Words
       by Paula Jeffery*

Before home time, every day,
That sleepy, can’t-write-any-more
Time of day,
Low sun picks out chalk dust
Suspended in air, over kids,
Who only want to meander
Across the park,
For tea and Thunderbirds.

Most kids. Not all kids. Not us kids.
We were Mr. Gardener’s kids,
And the slowest of us perked,
Eyes bright, legs crossed
At the end of the day,
Warm with anticipation.
Home was not pressing
On our nine-year-old minds

 Unexpected Mr. Gardener,
Generous, mild, and
Gentle sharer of knowledge,
Balancing on the brink
Of retirement,
Who, at the Christmas concert,
Awed us, floored us
With soaring solo Emmanuels.

Before the bell, we gathered round.
He held the book aloft and cracked open our little worlds
With Beowulf.
No diluted, convoluted picture story form,
This was all bloody battles,
Dragons, a severed arm.
A teacher transformed
Animated, passionate, Mr. Gardener
Held us all in thrall

 We went home through the cloakroom,
Summer air heavy with the smell
Of plimsolls and sour milk,
Minds alive and buzzing with heroes and monsters,
Chasing sword play across the park.

I thought, Imagine. You can have all that
With just words.

MORE WRITING INSPIRATION

TEACHER, by Sylvia Ashton-Warner

THE FREEDOM WRITERS, by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell

EDUCATING RITA, 1983 dramatic comedy, starring Michael Caine

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

***

*Artist, writer, self-publisher Paula Jeffery lives in the middle of England. Visit her at http://www.paulajeffery.com.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of The Hierophant from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

Words and Pictures: 3 Writing Prompts to Spark Your Next Story or Poem

WE WRITERS CAN BE AS VISUAL AS WE ARE VERBAL. Each of the following prompts capitalizes on that by inviting you to start with images and find words to accompany them. Use these exercises to spark a new story or poem—or to just have fun!

Writing Prompt 1: That looks good enough to eat!

  • Find an image of a prepared food dish that intrigues you—because it looks delicious, or ridiculously complicated, or for any other reason. Then, without knowing the ingredients, write the recipe. Now, write a scene in which your dish is prepared and served—for better or worse.

If you particularly enjoy this exercise, you might like the journal ALIMENTUM: THE LITERATURE OF FOOD.

Writing Prompt 2: Every picture tells a story

  • Children’s picture books and graphic novels both rely as much on illustrations to tell their stories as they do words. For this prompt, find half-a-dozen compelling images (funny, absurd, poignant, intriguing) online or in a magazine. Cut them out or print them, then arrange them so they tell a story, which you then write.

If you have fun with this, your inner comic-book writer might like MAKING COMICS by Scott McCloud or DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES by Jessica Abel.

Writing Prompt 3: Colorful language

  • Go to the hardware store and grab a handful of appealing paint chips. The color names are often almost poetic! Combine some of them to create a found/collaged poem—or write a story about someone who names paint colors for a living. Be sure to include plenty of color words in whatever you write.

If you’re interested in another color-centric prompt, check out this post: “Color My World.”

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Permission? Denied: A Frustrating Writing Prompt!

TAROT’S EMPEROR IS MY NEMESIS. Committed to authority, structure, systems, and patriarchy, he’s the STOP sign, the NO ACCESS barricade, the guy manning every single freakin’ security checkpoint. Ask him for permission, and your request is likely to be stamped: DENIED.

The Emperor makes the rules and hires minions to enforce them. He’s the senator voting on the speed-limit bill, which the police uphold. He’s the president of your homeowners’ association, who, having established how short you need to keep your grass, has his secretary send you threatening letters if it’s grown over a half-inch. He’s the manager of the hair salon at the far end of the waterfront, where there are no public restrooms, who instructs the receptionist no to let you in to use theirs—no matter that you’re about to pee your pants.

All of which is fine. I mean, someone’s got to keep chaos at bay. But, dammit, when I’m faced with one of the Emperor’s implacable minions? When I need something just one toenail across their seemingly arbitrary line? For instance, when the stern librarian turns down my request for a measly three-day extension on THE SECRET LIFE OF OWLS? Then, I’m not a fan. Nope.

(FRUSTRATING) WRITING PROMPT

Perhaps, like me, your character just wants an extension on a library loan—or permission to paint a butterfly mural on her garage. Or maybe she’s facing something more serious. Temporarily strapped, she might be seeking food assistance to tide her over. Or coverage for critical medical treatment. Or political asylum! Whatever her need, the resounding “no” she receives from the Emperor or one of his representatives may seem like the final, defeating word.

Unless she’s prepared to take matters into her own hands, that is.

So, what do you think? Do some brainstorming, pen in hand, about:

  • what your character might need,
  • what rides on her getting it,
  • whether she’ll buck authority if she has to,
  • and, if so (yay!) what bold steps she’ll take in her bid to govern her own life.
(IMPERIOUS) WRITING INSPIRATION

WENDY AND LUCY, 2008 drama, starring Michelle Williams, adapted from “Train Choir,” by Jon Raymond

BUCKING THE SARGE, by Christopher Paul Curtis

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, by George Orwell

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

***

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of The Emperor from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

 

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Two Sticks of Story Dynamite for Novelists and Short Story Writers

USED TO BE, I’D FIND GREAT STORY IDEAS in the newspaper that got tossed at my door each morning. Recently, though, I haven’t even had to get out of bed to gather inspirational goodness. That’s because a couple of bloggers have been delivering fresh literary fodder to my inbox on the regular. Here are two such ideas. Either could blast a humdrum story out of its complacency!

1) Inventing narratives

Hip biz guru Seth Godin wrote recently about inventing narratives. He said, That story in your head? It’s invented. It has to be. It might be based on some things that actually happened…. But it can’t possibly be a complete and detailed understanding of everything.

Seth sees this creative interpretation as problematic. That’s because Seth is not a novelist! Novelists are probably especially prone to inventing narratives—and probably particularly good at it! They might tell stories about everyday occurrences, family history, or the big issues life flings at us. For instance, a novelist could make up a story to explain the behavior of someone who snatched a parking spot from her, the reasons her parents favor her sister, or why one person got a terrifying diagnosis but she did not.

Which is actually pretty awesome! (Maybe not in real life—but in our literary lives, for sure.) That’s because it’s a short trip from misinterpreting a situation to taking misguided action on it—which, in fiction, can lead to exactly the sort of trouble needed to drive our story full speed ahead!

Got a dead spot in your plot? A place where not enough is happening? Play with this idea:

  • Your main character misunderstands another person’s motivations—believing them to be acting out of malice, when that is far from the truth!
  • Even worse, your MC takes vindictive action in response to the story she’s concocted.
  • What bad stuff comes tumbling down the hill to complicate her life as a result?
  • How the heck is she going to dig herself out of this mess?

2) Alter egos

Clever tarot writer Kate at DailyTarotGirl.com has been promoting the subversive advice of her “evil twin,” Veronica, for years. As I pondered a fresh approach to complicating a story I was working on, I thought about Veronica and realized the damage an alter ego could do to a plot!

Just imagine it! What if your main character had an alter ego? A persona she allowed to say, eat, or do whatever her daily persona was constrained against? That alternative personality might be braver, stronger, or kinder than she is in her regular guise. Or that other personality might be sneaky and underhanded. Or, if you’re writing a thriller, she might even be murderous!

And that’s just a start! What kinds of literary trouble might such a character generate? The possibilities seem endless—and fascinatingly, conflict-inducing-ly, complicatedly fraught!

So, that’s it for this week. Now, go forth and blow up your plot with these or any other trouble-inducing ideas. Just light the fuse and stick your fingers in your ears. After it gets over the shock, your story will thank you for it!

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

* * *

Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of the Moon card from the EVERYDAY WITCH TAROT

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Writing/Not Writing: With 2 Non-Ironic Writing Prompts

IT’S FRIDAY. I’m talking to my friend Mary, who is an excellent writer—but who no longer writes. I actually have several friends like that. But it’s okay. She’s a wonderful human being, anyway. Still, it makes me wonder why writers stop writing. Have you ever put down your pen (or the electronic version thereof) and simply walked away from your literary endeavors?

If so, have you returned to the life of the word?

And if you have, how long did your hiatus last? Do you know why you stopped? What did you learn about your relationship to writing while you and it were on a break (Ross and Rachel reference: sorry/not sorry). What made you come back? Are you a better writer for stepping away? Did you change genres? What about your writing changed since you quit for a while?

If you’re anything like me, when you’re not writing, your life just isn’t complete. While I may be relieved at not having to show up at my keyboard on the regular, the hole writing leaves is a gaping one. And like most gaping holes, the writing hole has a prodigious gravitational pull. So (like you? but not like Mary—yet), I always get sucked back in.

Writing prompts

1) Wherever you are on the writing/not-writing continuum, you might want to journal a bit about your relationship with the word-hungry beast. Use any of the questions posed above as a starting point for your personal exploration regarding your love/love-hate relationship with writing.

2) You might also want to take your experience of writing/not writing and put it to fictional use. In that case, here’s a prompt for you:

Write about a character who steps away from an art form (writing, painting, trumpeting …) that has had great significance for her. Perhaps she gives it up for a more practical path—accounting or nursing or parenting, for instance. Or because she loses her connection to her muse. Or because she feels like she’ll never achieve greatness in her field. Or….

Write a series of scenes about your character’s return to the pen/fiddle/garden. Start with the moment in which she first realizes will never feel fulfilled until she gets back to her keyboard/easel/pastry board. Next, have her act on that epiphany: Does she just walk away from her current life? At what expense? Or does she try to integrate her art into her non-art circumstances? And how does that work out? (Use this opportunity to create big trouble for your character, as someone in her life is likely to rise up and complicate her new-found decision, if not block her creative path altogether!)

Personally, I’m not big on writing (or reading) about romance. But I am deeply interested in how people—fictional and actual—conduct their creative lives. So, if this idea sounds good to you, and you find it has legs, let me know when your novel or memoir about reviving a creative life is published. I’ll be first in the pre-order line at Amazon. Because I am always delighted to read a tale about the hot, sweaty pursuit of a tall, dark, handsome life in the arts.

Writing inspiration

OLD IN ART SCHOOL (a memoir about a writer/historian enrolling in art school at an advanced age), by Nell Painter

A WORK OF ART (a novel about a young artist who gets stopped in her creative tracks by life), by Melody Maysonet

UTOPIA AVENUE (a novel about a band’s “Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder…. of music, madness, and idealism.”), by David Mitchell

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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YOU Are a Collector’s Item: A Really Excellent Writing Prompt!

POET ELLEN DORÉ WATSON starts her poem “The Body Speaks” from her collection WE LIVE IN BODIES, like this:

So? I’m a collection of oversized bones, blind in so much
casing, I’m a pair of lonely shoulders and a snip of a nose
turned up at the word cute. 

This made me wonder: What am I a collection of? Cats? Years of memos jotted on sticky notes? My father’s anger? My mother’s early orphan-hood? The fairy tales I read by the faint light let in by the narrow crack in the door when I was supposed to be asleep? College courses? Jobs? Friends? My paternal grandmother’s heavy breasts? My maternal grandmother’s shapely calves?

Writing prompt

And what are you a collection of—for better or worse? Family stories? Genes? Body parts? Or are you made up of memories? Books you’ve read? Relationships? Write about the collection that is you—or use this question to explore a fictional character.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

* * *

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Seven of Cups from the GOLDEN TAROT by Kat Black.

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A Good Writing Prompt Can …

IF YOU’RE WILLING TO LEAP INTO ITS INVITATION, A GOOD WRITING PROMPT CAN catapult you out of your writing doldrums, unstick your project if it’s stuck, and fling your work in fresh and unexpected directions! And, interestingly, a prompt doesn’t need to be complicated to work its magic. Take, for instance, the writing prompt novelist Heidi Julavits used to rediscover her writing mojo—after children and other obligations had back-burnered her literary life.

Over the course of two years, most evenings Julavits started a journal entry with this prompt: “Today I …” From that simple start, she would record details of her day—her thoughts, activities, pleasures, regrets. But she didn’t stop there. Instead, she allowed herself to stray far from the day’s events. Like a dragonfly, she would flit from topic to topic, shifting freely on the winds of association, revisiting the joys and puzzlements of past experience, as well as conjecturing about the future, often with only the most tangential of connections.

The result? A NEW YORK TIMES Notable Book, her 2015 memoir, THE FOLDED CLOCK.

I absolutely recommend reading THE FOLDED CLOCK—yes, for pleasure, but especially for inspiration if you keep a journal or are writing a memoir. But even if neither applies to you, you might want to take Julavits’s approach for a test drive. Try this: Set aside ten or fifteen minutes each evening for a week or two and write, starting with “Today I …,” then leap to whatever thought attracts your attention next.

I’ll give it a try myself!

(TRIGGER WARNING: So, when I let myself free associate, a lá Julavits, I ended up writing about cats. And, of course, the hardest thing about having cats is their inevitable loss. Which is where this writing went. Just letting you know.)

Today I … was drowsy. If not for the cats needing breakfast, I would have slept late, lying in bed, half-dreaming for hours. But the cats were not to be refused. Are cats ever to be refused? Not in my experience. Which includes a lot of cats. Present cats, of course, but past cats, too. And that’s where the heartbreak lives, with the cats of the past and their various ends—which started, in my cat-life, with the disappearance of our black Persian Sukie.

My mother was beside herself with worry—truly, I think, much more worried about Sukie than she ever was about my sister or me. I was eight or nine. Old enough to want to reduce my mother’s anxiety. So I told her I thought I could see Sukie under the house—a wooden farmhouse we were renting that year, its placement up on concrete blocks creating a long, dark crawl space beneath. Dark enough that it was plausible that a black cat could be hiding there, invisible in the murk, except for his eyes glinting if you shined a flashlight towards him. Which I didn’t, not having a flashlight. Although I reported to my mom that I had seen that green glint, wanting to buy her some hope.

In fact, that hope was fleeting. A neighbor pulled up to give us the news. Sukie was (predictably, as I all too soon came to understand) dead. Hit by a car. Like Floffleas and Wobble and, as the years unfolded, several other cats—until we understood that an indoor life for cats might be better for all concerned.

However they passed—traffic, illness, age—so many of the cats I’ve lived with have left an enduring mark. There are dents in my heart where they’ve curled themselves in its various chambers, as if that red beating muscle were a pillow. The special ones—Umphrey, Bertie, Jake, Pea Mouse, Roo—left lasting hollows behind in the exact shape of themselves, their permanent selves, the selves the cars and cancers couldn’t obliterate. “Past cats,” that’s what Jill said, when Jake and Bert died too young and within months of one another. And she was right. Because now there are Jack and Winter and Milo, present cats, each one kneading at the flesh of my heart, softening it up so it will hold their image long after they, too, have passed on.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

 

Writing Prompts for People Stuck at Home

I’M REALLY LUCKY! MANY OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS ARE WRITERS. This means that sometimes, when I’m stuck or boring myself silly, a pal will step in and show me another way. That’s the case this week. Usually, I’m quite fond of creating writing prompts. In fact, I consider myself pretty darned good at cooking up dynamic, engaging exercises that take writers (me included) into new territory.

This week, though? I’m freakin’ dry. And just when I want to offer you guys something fresh to while away the l-o-n-g, isolated hours—or, even better, give you a head’s start on a new writing project. Which brings us to my gratitude for writer friends in general—and Teri AnpoWi Saveliff in particular.

When I was sighing to Teri about my dearth of creative spark, she offered up her services. “I’ve been challenging myself with a bunch of different writing prompts,” she told me. “I’d be happy to share a few with your readers!” Now, that is team spirit, people! Team SPIRIT!

So, without further ado, I offer you …

Teri’s Writing Prompts for People Stuck at Home

I suspect I’m not the only writer who, now involuntarily hunkered down in place with hours of unforeseen free time, has not been able to pick up the pen and finally finish that long-neglected novel. In fact, I have become far less productive than usual. One time-honored solution is to take on a smaller, less daunting project with an eye to shaking out your hands and getting the juices flowing again.

Without the outside world to inspire me, I have tried to look at the objects in my home with new eyes. I shared my approach with Jamie, whose enthusiasm made me think these prompts might catch your fancy, as well.

1) The Previously Undetected Voice in the Room

I have several beautiful statues of goddesses adorning my altar. Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and good fortune, has, depending upon her manifestation, two, four, or eight arms. She usually holds lotus flowers and fruit in some of her hands; others are open, offering blessings.

What if she were to choose to come alive, right now? What would she say? What questions would she ask? What might she cause to happen in my house? Or would she ignore me altogether, cavorting with my figurine of the Vetruvian man?

Perhaps you have no three-dimensional art in your home to galvanize your imagination. But perhaps you do have a watercolor of an aging barn. What if the barn could speak? What if it had witnessed a crime, or two young lovers’ first kiss? What if it wanted to divulge its history before gravity triumphs over its rotting wood and rusting nails?

Pick any piece of art in your house and give it a voice. Let it tell you what it’s seen, what it imagines, what it longs for. If possible, give it a happy ending.

2) A Pen with a Story

Find the oldest pen among your writing implements, one you didn’t acquire new. More likely than not, it’s a nondescript ballpoint, perhaps pocketed by mistake when you signed a credit slip at that antique store you visited six years ago. This pen had a history before it came into your possession. Who owned it? What does the pen know of this person? Did they use the pen to write frivolous checks? Compose love sonnets? Craft a Dear John letter? Let the pen tell you as it slips across the page.

3) Living Upside Down

Many tarot readers say they feel we are living in Hanged Man times. No, not strangling in a noose—suspended upside down. It is a time for waiting, reflection, and looking at things from a different perspective.

When I was a child, oh, how we reveled in our days of idleness! I would lie on the carpet, looking up at the ceiling, and imagine that it was the floor. I pictured myself stepping over raised thresholds that separated room from room. I saw a space where light fixtures were planted into the floor, illuminating the rooms with a far different quality. I wondered how it would feel to walk across floors of popcorn (thank goodness popcorn ceilings are no longer in vogue!).

What does your space look like upside down. How would you move through it? What looks different? What is still familiar? Does gazing at it up-ended give you vertigo? Does your view suggest white rabbits with pocket watches ready to dive into Wonderland? What adventure beckons you into your inverted world?

Have fun and stay safe,
Teri

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

* * *

Thanks so much to Teri AnpoWi Saveliff for sharing her inspiring prompts with us. If you like these, you might enjoy her ideas about using tarot to help you plot your novel and develop your characters. She’s also the author of the charming novel SIGNATURES. 

Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of The Hanged Man from the EVERYDAY WITCH TAROT.

An Author Shares Three Tips for Plotting Your Novel (with Tarot!)

TERI ANPOWI SAVELIFF AND I WERE TAROT FRIENDS before we were writer friends. Many’s the evening we’ve spent on the phone throwing cards for one another or sharing images from our newest decks. Then I read her charming NaNoWriMo-inspired novel, SIGNATURES, and was delighted to learn we had a whole other dimension of commonality to explore!

In this post, Teri draws from both our shared worlds, offering three ways to use tarot—a system of evocative visual images—to develop your novel.

* * *

Before I published my first novel, SIGNATURES, the main characters and the bookshop where they worked had been inhabiting my head for decades. But characters, and even settings, have lives of their own, and they may insist on telling their story in ways you might not anticipate. As an avid student of tarot, I knew the cards would play a role in my novel. And I was right. Once tough-talking, tattooed Paloma—complete with her tarot deck—strolled into the bookshop and insisted on joining my cast of characters, she and her cards played a very large part in my novel, indeed.

In the past, I’ve often used the images, symbolism, and divinatory meanings of tarot cards to illustrate a point or move a plot along. In SIGNATURES, however, I didn’t merely toss the appropriate card into the story at the right time—I conducted actual readings for my characters. If you have some experience with tarot, I highly recommend this strategy when you need additional backstory for a character, want to test a character’s mettle, or want to explore secondary themes in your novel.

You don’t need to be a tarot expert to find the cards useful, however! Here are three different ways you can use a deck of tarot cards to explore your novel.

1. Know a smidge about tarot? Conduct a tarot reading as part of a scene.

One late addition to my cast of characters was Hanz Lippman, an author clinging to past achievements. He enjoyed holding court in the bookshop and flirting with coeds studying his book in their literature classes. I didn’t anticipate developing his character, further, though, until Paloma conducted a reading for him:

“Don’t draw more than one card,” commanded Hanz. “I don’t think I could stand any more than that.”

Paloma made a face and drew a solitary card. It depicted a young man, a small dog nipping at his heels. The man was perilously close to the edge of a cliff, but seemed unconcerned.

“The Fool,” said Paloma. “You seem to be at the beginning of a journey or undertaking.”

“Ha!” crowed Hanz. “I knew these cards were nonsensical bullshit. Tell me, dear, what sort of journey am I beginning? What project am I undertaking?”

“Well, this is usually why my client and I work together,” Paloma answered irritably. “I’ve told you, I’m not a fortuneteller. I would also draw a few more cards to answer the question. One card doesn’t always say enough.”

“My sweet little dove,” Hanz said with a smile, “I am far too old to be a fool, at the beginning of a journey or otherwise. You should have drawn an old man … a man without even a dog to accompany him on his travels.”

“The Fool can also represent someone at the beginning of a spiritual journey … or an emotional journey,” Paloma added.

“None of this resonates at all,” Hanz insisted stubbornly. He turned the card face down and slid it back toward Paloma.

“Of course, you could also be getting ready to walk right off the cliff,” Paloma retorted. “Not looking where you’re going, too confident in yourself. The good news is, the fall won’t be fatal.”

“Good news for whom?” teased Hanz. “I have a feeling you wouldn’t mind if I broke a bone or two.”

Paloma smiled noncommittally and gathered the cards into a single stack.

This reading added some depth to Hanz’s character and inspired me to create for him a much bigger role in my novel.

2. Not a tarot reader? Just one image can add intrigue or foreshadowing

Even a single card can add dimension or reinforce a theme in your story. The card may appear very straightforward, such as the card of Justice, usually depicting a blindfolded woman with a sword in one hand and a set of scales in the other, or The Tower, often shown with lightning striking its peak and people falling from its windows.

In the case of this little scene, Maggie, the main character in SIGNATURES, draws her own card out of curiosity, and that card adds a bit of foreshadowing.

[Maggie] spied Paloma’s tarot deck sitting on the low round table not far from the window. On an impulse, she shuffled the cards and then drew one from the deck. She had to laugh. “The Lovers,” she smirked.

It so happens that Maggie pulled this card just before she goes on a date!

3. Don’t know the first thing about tarot cards? Tarot is character-centric! Let the figure on a card suggest an attitude or trait for one of your less-developed characters. (P.S. The internet abounds with pictures of tarot archetypes. Just Google “tarot cards” for a free treasure trove of inspiring images!)

You don’t need any experience with the cards to put them to work as a literary aid! Since tarot’s visual language can be said to be universal, even the most random tarot draw can spark fresh ideas. For instance, If you are looking to add a character to your story, or describe a character you haven’t fleshed out, you could draw a card to give your character a face.

One of my favorite decks, the GAIAN TAROT, depicts people from numerous ethnic backgrounds and cultures. When I was looking for a bit more information about the character of Paloma after she barged unexpectedly into my book, the GAIAN Seven of Fire suggested her multiple tattoos and air of independence.

Whether you utilize a few captivating illustrations on the internet, purchase an intriguing deck of your own, or become a full-blown tarot enthusiast like me, tarot can enrich and add dimension to your writing endeavors. Above all, have fun exploring a new tool!

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WRITING (AND TAROT) INSPIRATION

There are literally thousands of tarot decks to choose from. You might visit Amazon and search “tarot decks,” to get you started. However, the AECLECTIC TAROT site might be a better place to start. AECLECTIC offers decks categorized by art style, as well as sample images of all decks and even reviews of many decks.

Corinne Kenner’s TAROT FOR WRITERS offers many approaches to applying tarot imagery and meaning to enhance your creative writing project.

You’ll also find dozens of tarot-based writing prompts on this website. Just search “tarot,” using the magnifying-glass icon you’ll find in the top right hand corner of every page.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of The Fool, from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of The Lovers from the LLEWELLYN TAROT.

Thank you to Joanna Powell Colbert for kind permission to use the image of the Seven of Fire, from her GAIAN TAROT). 

And special thanks to Teri AnpoWi Saveliff for her generous sharing of a few of her tarot-centric novel-writing tips and tricks!

Posted in News, Notes & Quotes | Comments Off on An Author Shares Three Tips for Plotting Your Novel (with Tarot!)

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