The Tarot of Character Development


Every writer has tricks and odd habits, idiosyncrasies and methods for starting a novel. Some outline like crazy, some not at all. Some like to base characters on figures from myth and fairytale. And so forth.

My favorite tool is the Tarot.

I start with an idea, a general plot, theme, and feeling that I want the reader to experience when the last page is turned.  I create a list of major characters and their relationships.  Then I get out the cards.  The deck in the picture is the one I bought with my allowance as a teenager in the ’70s, the only deck I’ve ever used.

I complete a reading for each major character using the Celtic Cross format. This process tells me where they’ve been, where they’re going, what’s vexing them, and so on.  I read as though I’m reading for a real person, and try to bring all my intuitive skills to bear.

Once that’s done, I revise the plot, theme, and message to incorporate all of the great detail gained from the Tarot process. At this point the characters take on a definite ‘life.’  The Tarot readings have a profound effect on the process, often taking the original story idea in a different direction than I had previously  envisioned.

I then clearly conceptualize the end of the book, the climax, the point at which everything comes to a head.  Starting at the end, I work backwards to create a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, layering in the events, character interactions, and sub-climaxes so that they build toward the climax.

Next to each chapter in the outline I estimate how many pages it will take to relate the material.  I then add up the numbers and make sure I have enough to make a novel.

Once that’s done, I start writing at the beginning, at page 1.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think my methods are that unusual.  After all, the Tarot have been used for centuries to help unravel the personal stories of living people.  Why not fictional ones?

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