Many writers make up questionnaires to try to get to know their characters better. But does it really help your story to know what your character’s favorite food or color is? When I need to deeply understand my protagonist, an antagonist, or any of my secondary characters, I often do a tarot card reading.
The insights help me develop the character’s backstory and motivation, as well provide new ideas for how he or she will transform and take action across the story arc.
If you’re not familiar with tarot, you might want to read my Sept. 29th post on using this divination practice. The Character Cross is a good starting place for trying out tarot as a writer. Here I’m introducing a slightly more involved tarot spread called a TETRAKTYS. The cards are arranged bottom to top with a row of 4, a row of 3, a row of 2, and crowned with a single card. The winding movement from bottom to top is like a climber ascending a mountain (appropriate for a character arc).
I hope you’ll share this writing exercise with others!
I’d love to hear how the Tetraktys tarot spread works for you. Shoot me a message on Facebook.
Here’s the way to interpret what each card means for your character:
TETRAD (bottom 4 cards, right to left)
1. Signifier – What is the (possibly false) sense of self your character possesses at the opening of the story?
2. Past influence — What events, issues, friends, or family in the backstory have had the biggest impact on shaping your character?
3. Desires — At the beginning of your story, what does your character most want in the world?
4. Fears — What fears or anxieties are keeping your character from becoming her best self?
TRIAD (second row up, left to right) Traditionally the Triad row is about destruction, creation, and sustaining.
5. Destroyer — What inciting incident, unexpected arrival, or catalyst will destroy your character’s old way of life?
6. Creator — Even if your character has little control over the catalyst, there should be a powerful choice that your character has to make to create a new life. What must your character choose between if he is to move forward toward a resolution of the conflict?
7. Sustainer — What unique qualities or talents does your character possess to help in resolving the story conflict?
DYAD (third row up, right to left) The Dyad row focuses on the oppositional forces of light and darkness.
8. Conflict – What difficulties are in your character’s path, creating obstacles to overcome (darkness) as well as opportunities for personal growth (light)?
9. Consequences — If your character does or doesn’t succeed, what good or bad consequences will occur? These should be big and important not only to your character, but also to your reader.
MONAD (apex card)
10. Unity — For your character to succeed in overcoming the central obstacles, she will need to unify her sense of self with the climactic action she must take. In other words, your character must discover a deeper sense of self that will allow her to resolve the conflict. How does the character arc and story arc come together in a powerful resolution?