I figured, what with it being the start of a new year, that some of you might be thinking about some projects. Maybe you’re deciding to finish something or to start something new. Either way, you might find some tarot card tricks useful as you go. Last time I wrote about meditation and interpretation, but today I thought I’d write more about making things.
I picked this up from Philip K. Dick, really, though I’ve read that Alan Moore uses tarot cards to help him plot out his stories. This can be very complicated or very simple — whichever you prefer. I’ll talk mostly about writing in this post, since that’s my thing. As the year goes on I’ll try to explore some other ways of making art.
Anyway. The basic thing you can do is just deal yourself some cards at random while you’re writing. Here’s something I really did, that helped me a lot: The last short story I wrote was big and messy. I ended up writing a lot by hand, and then ignoring that when I came back to the Word document. It started with a philosophical paragraph, and then got pretty funny. It stopped being funny, then I went back and scrapped about 1000 words. Then it was a little funny again, but still very serious. With all that back-and-forth, I had some difficulty with the basic plot near the end. Things had moved fairly slowly, and I wanted them to accelerate. But I didn’t have any incidents for the middle section. I knew how it ended, and I had how it began, but I needed some more stuff to happen.
So I just drew a tarot card. I think I put in three incidents based on tarot cards, then wrapped it up. In each case, I simply shuffled my deck, which I kept on my desk, and pulled one card. So that’s very simple.
The slightly more complicated part is figuring out what to do with the card once you have it. For instance, I got a Wand at one point (I don’t remember which one now), and ended up writing about a magma creature. Wands represent fire. Fire ended up threading its way through the entire story, and it entered the narrative because of one tarot card. Neat, huh? That obviously required revision afterwards, but what doesn’t?
So after each incident, I drew a card for the next. It worked very well. The idea here is just to give you something to do. You’ll begin to blend the edges yourself, so the new, “random” incident is a part of the narrative you’d already created. So if you often struggle with “writer’s block,” just keep a tarot deck where you write.
Maybe you’ve got a big project on your plate, though. You’ve got an outline and a character. Draw a card for every chapter! What if you’re writing a short poem instead? You could draw a card for each line, or each stanza. Or, if you’re just stuck, for a single line or stanza. Then continue on as normal.
I’ve also done this one: let’s say you’ve got ideas but no real outline or plot yet. That is, you probably know where it all ends, but you need to figure out how to get it there. Maybe you’ve already written a couple thousand words, even. That happened to me with an idea for a novel several years ago. You can do a big spread for an entire project all at once, if that appeals to you.
First, figure out a structure that works for you. Maybe you want to use the five act narrative structure. Maybe you think it’ll end up as twenty chapters. Once, I used the Kaballistic Tree of Life as a novel structure, and put a card into each sephirah — the basic plot was about a descent, so that made a lot of sense. You could do a tree, or a river. You could deal cards into a circle, with your character in the center. You could, like in the previous entry linked above, deal yourself cards for the plot, characters, setting, and everything else.
This method is more about the structure than the cards themselves. You’ll free associate the cards any which way, so you’re good there. But figuring out the structure in advance is very helpful.
So come up with a shape of some kind — any kind, really. Use that spiral shape people put on top of pictures all the time, from the golden ratio. Deal yourself three cards in these positions: heaven, hell, earth. Think about sending your character through each of those realms. What would hell be like for your character?
Maybe, though, it’s the structure giving you fits. Maybe you have characters, plot points, and a setting, but you don’t know how everything should be shaped. I haven’t tried this one myself, but I think it could work (let me know if you try it!): write down a lot of different basic structures. You can find them online, or in a literature textbook or something. Use the meme going around with classical/modern/postmodern conflict types if you want. Deal yourself a card for each structure or conflict type you think of. Just try reacting to the cards honestly. Which seem good or bad? Weed out the ones you react badly to. Take the remaining “Good” cards and try to locate your character in there. If you do, think about how they’d move through the structure the card landed on. If you don’t find your character, think about how they could know the people in these cards. What would they do in each situation? Could that situation be a chapter, or a moment from their past? Shovel everything in and see what happens.
There are, naturally, a lot of ways to use tarot cards like this. I’ve only come up with a few. Maybe they’ll work for you — or maybe they’ll just give you an idea. That’s what they’re for, anyway. Good luck out there, and happy new year!