Storytelling exercises: tarot-based “hows” and “whys”

example of a tarot card spread

I have no formal set of spiritual beliefs to share with you today, and I don’t use tarot cards in the exact way they were originally intended. I’m bringing them to the table because IĀ find that they make for a great storytelling exercise. Each card has a variable set of symbolic meanings, and depending on the context of a reading (i.e. what the reader wants to divine, or question to be answered) the cards can sometimes help open up a path that I wouldn’t have previously considered.

For example, let’s suppose I’m borderline on the fate of a minor character. If they perish, then the remainder of the book has to take into account the consequences of their absence. If they live, then I have to find something useful for them to do, or some other compelling reason to make them go away if I have no further narrative plans for them.

This came up when I was writing the third manuscript in the “Gift-Knight” trilogy, around 2011. In this case, I wasn’t going to the cards to determine the binary lives/dies outcome for the character per se; I knew which way I was leaning. The story paths opened up to me by the cards were more like possible “hows” and “whys” than “whethers”. While there isn’t a strict moral code determining the outcomes for characters in my trilogy, answering yes or no to any decision still leaves the practical how, the practical why. I used the details of the book that I knew so far for the context.

Though the third book still needs its overhaul, and several editing runs on top of that, I will probably keep with the decision I reached. For something that worked well, I haven’t relied on this method again for that specific purpose. I would sooner go for that than a coin toss.

Instead, I sometimes do readings for people, and I take a very neutral perspective on whether or not I’m actually tapping into a spiritual force to help this person understand the “hows” and “whys” of life. The tarot reading for a person is a mutual creative exercise, where I provide prompts based on manual-derived symbolic meanings you can get from each card. I use a standard layout for longer card draws so that each card is loosely situated in a context, pre-assigned a purpose. But the most important thing is how the other person responds, and what input they bring to their own story we’re trying to tell. I’m helping them do their own reading; I ask useful questions. If they bring nothing, I deliver nothing. And they can believe whatever they want, it’s not a problem for me.

Characters may have enough formed personality that you could imagine their responses, but the character-outcome card draw is most likely to reinforce and elaborate a decision I’m leaning toward, though not strongly. Most of the time, I don’t need to go as far as to bring out my deck, but if I did, I would sooner stick with the decision reached by cards than by a coin toss. Maybe it’s just me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *