Sunday, March 20, 2016

Using Tarot Cards to Aid in Character Creation

I've been meaning to write a not-so-serious blog post about using tarot cards as a guide to character creation, but I always find myself complicating the topic whenever I start writing about it. It's not a complex process, so I'm tossing my cards in the air, so to speak, and letting them fall where they may, because using tarot to sculpt your characters is easy, and it's an interesting way of digging into who your characters are on a sub surface level.

Let's dive right in and get started...

Chosing a deck to work with.
I have dozens of decks, but my favorite is The Halloween Tarot by Karen Lee and Kipling West, so that's what I'm going to use. I love the symbolism of the Halloween deck, but you can use any Rider Waite based deck you like, or even Leonormand style decks. The choice is yours.

If you aren't familiar with the meanings and symbolism tarot cards use, feel free to use the little white book included with most new packs of tarot cards to help you. Using the LWB (little white book) works, because the underlying meaning of the cards are what you're going to use to help build your characters' personalities and personal histories.

Shuffling, Drawing, and Laying out the cards.
Take your deck and shuffle the cards. When I lay out the cards, typically I like working in threes - three cards / three characteristics per character. I like to do this because it mimics a past, present, future tarot reading. I also do this because I read somewhere (long, long ago in a land far away) that our brains are hardwired to process threes.

Another reason I like to draw three cards per character, is because you can create a character arc with three cards, each card representing a shift in character persepective, but I promised myself I wouldn't bog this blog post down and make it more complicated than it needs to be. For the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to do a one-card draw and put it face up.

The card I drew is the World card. (shown above) This is the card I'm going to use to flesh out my character, which I've already decided is female, in her early 20s, and from a small Romanian village north of Bucharest. Other than that, I really don't know much about Stella (Stela). The rest of her traits I'll develope based on the World card.

Choosing character traits based on the cards you drew. 
I knew I wanted to create Stella before I ever reached for my tarot cards, so starting out I had a vague idea of a slim, brunette woman in mind for a central character. However, I didn't have her personality nailed down at all. Her personal and family history is even more vague for me. I need to know these things about her before I start writing her story.

To add meaning to her as a character, I'm going to look at the meanings, themes, and symbolism found in the The World card. In the Ryder-Waite deck, some of the typical themes for The World card are about expanding energies, embracing all the elements of our nature (a potential theme for my dear Stella), and completion. The card holds many other meanings as well. After I've drawn a card, the next step it to sort through that card's themes and meanings to find the ones that best apply to the character I want to create.

The LWB that comes with the deck can give you more clues about the meaning of the World card: success, feeling at one with the universe, cycles. If you don't have a little white book with your tarot deck, you can find individual card meanings listed both at Keen and Biddy Tarot. They're both excellent resources that I highy recommend.

The image on the card, which differs from deck to deck, can also be used as inspiration to add to the personality of your character. In The Halloween Tarot, the world card shows a black cat in the middle of the card instead of a woman. Maybe Stella is intensely superstitious, self-centered, or a crazy cat lady. Maybe she's someone who loves her cat more than she loves her husband or siblings. That's an interesting idea. I'm going to write that one down. I'd definitely riff off that idea to find out why Stella is the type who loves her cat more than her family. What happened in her life to make her feel that way? Did her family do something to her? If so, what and how does this affect her life now?

While going through the character creation process, I usually make a list of all the possibilities that I come up with based on the card in hand, and then go back through the list and choose the ones I like best.

Back to the character in question, maybe Stella is a vet, who has a knack for dealing with stubborn cats. Or, maybe the people in Stella's life view her as a 'black cat' type...whenever she comes around, they're sure something bad/unlucky is about to befall them. That's yet another interesting option I'd want to add to my list...and I'd probably turn over another card to answer the question: Why do people feel Stella showing up brings them bad luck?

Whatever card I turn over to answer that question, I'd mine the meanings of that card to come up with possible answers. For example, if I turned over the 3 of Swords, the answer might be: People view Stella as bad luck, because she brings sorrow, bitterness, and bad news with her whenever she shows up. Or maybe Stella is a heartbreaker. That could work well in a romance. All of those meanings: sorrow, bitterness, bad news, and heart break are meanings attributed to the 3 of Swords card.

Bonus: The Underlying Theme
Sometimes, when I'm stuck for a theme for a short story or novel, I turn to the tarot. I shuffle the deck of my choosing, but instead of turning over the top card, I set the deck down and then flip it over to reveal the card on the very bottom of the deck. For some people who read tarot, the card on the bottom of the deck can represent "the underlying issue" of a situation or problem.

When brainstorming your story, if you're interested in writing and developing a singular theme, seeking out "the underlying issue" can be a good way to generate ideas. Look at the card on the bottom of the deck and riff themes off the symbolism of the card the same way you would for creating a character.

Have fun with creating characters. 
As with any creative process, you'll get some good results and some stinkers. The point is to have fun while letting the cards lead you to new possibilities you can riff off of. If you get stuck with a personality trait that doesn't seem to fit, or if you're just not sure what to do with a card you drew, you can always return that card to the deck and draw another one, or you can turn over another card to add to the overall picture. The key is to look broadly at the cards symbolism, meanings, and key themes to help you paint a picture of who your character is and how they behave within your story world.

If you like this post, or would like to know more about using tarot to create characters, leave a comment or let me know via social media. I'm reachable at all the usual places, including here at the blog. I hope to do more creative, writerly posts like this one in the future.

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