Saturday, September 08, 2012

Practical Tarot for Fiction Writers

Tina Whittle

Todays guest blogger is Tina Whittle, whose first book,
The Dangerous Edge of Things, published by Poisoned Pen Press — debuted to starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Library Journal. Continuing with Darker Than Any Shadow, this Atlanta-based series features gun shop owner Tai Randolph and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. The third book — Blood, Ash and Bone — premieres March 2013. You can find the author online at her official website -- and ordering information for all three books
Writer’s block the bane of anyone who’s ever attempted to put words together in a coherent fashion. Cures and quick fixes abound, everything from doodling to dancing to massive caffeine infusions, but when I get well and truly stuck, I reach for my tarot deck. After all, tarot accesses the often deeply buried wisdom of the subconscious, and I can’t think of a more necessary — and more versatile — tool in my writer’s toolkit.

Tarot helps when the blank page looms large, when I hit a bump in the plot-outlining road, or when I need some creative brainstorming to shake an idea loose. One of its most valuable applications occurs at the beginning of the writing process, when I’m fleshing out my characters. It’s a practice tarot readers call choosing a significator. In tarot lingo, a significator is a card that represents the querent (the person asking the cards a question). But a significator can represent story people as well as flesh-and-blood ones.
For this exercise, I use court cards, the sixteen cards in a traditional tarot deck representing different personality types. Like modern playing cards, tarot decks have four suits, only instead of hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds, most decks have Swords, Cups (or Chalices), Wands (or Rods), and Coins (or Discs or Pentacles). Each of these suits represents a different realm of human experience Cups/Emotion, Wands/Passion, Coins/Material Foundation, and Swords/ Mental Acuity.

Each of these suits contains four court cards (like face cards in a regular playing card deck) Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages. Kings usually represent mature men, and Queens mature women. Knights can represent adolescents or young adults of either gender, and Pages young people of either gender. However, Knights and Pages can represent adults who behave more like little kids or teenagers.

Choosing significators for your characters is as simple as matching up the proper combination of suit and court card. For example, my female protagonist Tai Randolph is an energetic, curious, and sometimes rebellious woman in her late twenties. Tai’s smart, active, and once engaged, a fiery force to be reckoned with, but she’s sometimes a little too reckless and inexperienced for her own good. The Knight of Wands is a perfect match for her all the energy of a teenager combined with passionate active intensity.

My male protagonist Trey Seaver is also smart, but his intellect is more cool and collected.  He is a decisive and discriminating man in his mid-thirties, truthful and direct and analytical. He prefers to plan before taking action, but when he does act, it is with swift and certain resolve. Trey is my King of Swords mature and cerebral and powerful, if a bit controlling at times.

 If I get stuck in a scene, I often pull these two cards from the deck and ponder the images for inspiration. Swords, for example, are double-edged. What aspect of Trey cuts both ways as he tries to solve a mystery? What finely honed attribute of his might be revealed in this scene? I also re-read the profiles for each of these cards and see if the descriptions offer up some new nuance. For example, Wands people often become more reliable as they mature. Is this a scene when Tai can demonstrate this evolving sense of responsibility?

 The rest of the cards in a traditional 78-card tarot deck can further this exercise. If I suspect one of my characters is holding out on me, I can draw extra cards to see what secrets might be revealed. A clandestine lover? A guilty conscience? A surreptitious bit of cunning?
The cards will tell all. All you need is a tarot deck, a basic book of interpretations (which sometimes comes with the decks themselves), and a willingness to experiment. Soon you too will find the tarot an impressive part of your creative toolkit, no crystal ball required.


Tina said...

Thank you all for having me today -- I appreciate the virtual hospitality very much!

Raelyn Barclay said...

Fabulous post! I love using Tarot to inspire my writing. I'd never thought of choosing significators for my characters but as I read your process I realized that's exactly what I do.

Rick Blechta said...

Tina, did you get a capu and one of Frankie's fabulous chocolate croissants?


Tina said...

Thanks, Raelyn. Like you, I learned about this process all backwards-like -- doing it, then having the "aha!" I also cast astrological natal charts for my characters, which is VERY illuminating too.

Tina said...

Rick, you speak of wonders -- I did not dream that such a thing as a chocolate croissant existed! I'll be on the lookout for sure (and also in awe of someone as multi-talented as Frankie apparently is.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Rick, did you mean Charlotte's fabulous chocolate croissants. I love them, but am still in search of the perfect recipe.

Tina, I wish I were as talented as you when it comes to both starred reviews and use of the Tarot. I have several decks of Tarot cards that I bought when I was doing research for a book years ago. I do pull then out when I'm stuck. But it never occurred to me to approach the process as you outline here. I just shuffle a deck and hope something will come to me. But your method sounds much more likely to yield results. Thanks! This will really help as I'm thinking about the characters in the book I've just started.

Tina said...

Hi Frankie! I'm excited to hear about yet-another writer who uses tarot cards. Congrats and good luck on the next book -- I hope this technique proves helpful. In the meantime, I've got to solve the mystery of the chocolate croissants. Seriously. I'm obsessed now.

Carlene Rae Dater said...

I don't believe in Writer's Block - it was made up by someone in California who was too lazy to write. I started my career as a journalist and believe me, there are NO writer's blocks in the newsroom! When the editor wants copy by a certain time, you'd better give it to him or you won't have a job. I mean, really, do plumbers get blocked? "Oh, dear, I simply cannot snake today, I'm blocked." Of course not. Writers write, period.

Hannah Dennison said...

Wow! This is amazing! What a fantastic idea. I have never thought of doing this at all - I'm not an expert on the Tarot by any means but I do have a deck. Brilliant post. Thanks!

Tina said...

Hi Hannah, I hope you'll take that deck out and experiment. You don't have to be an expert to find out some fascinating material, not only about you, but about your creative work as well. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Tina said...

Hi Carlene, thanks for reading and sharing. I'm a former journalist too, so I see your point about the newsroom, but I don't think the plumber analogy holds up as well(though it gives me a good laugh, which we all need in this business). I'm a gardener, and while I don't get gardener's block (oh no, I can't possibly weed today!) I do my best plant work intuitively as well, when I connect with a deeper understanding of the whole of what I'm doing, not just going through a checklist. I agree -- writers write. For me, blocks happen when I'm just putting words on paper as opposed to connecting with the larger flow. Instead of just pushing through, I've learned there are very specific things I can do to get back "in the flow" again. Tarot is one. Each writer is an individual and has to find her own way through that thicket, of course. I suspect journalists have their own ways too (for me, caffeine always did the trick). Thanks for stopping by.