How Tarot Tells a Story
What helps me a lot with reading the tarot is the fact that I write for a living. It's probably the one thing I've done consistently and constantly for the longest time. Even as a kid, I was always making up stories, creating my own "books," and scribbling in my journal. Because I've been writing for so long, I've become familiar with a lot of the elements of writing stories. It's helped me spot characters quickly, figure out different settings, notice problems, solutions and different plot points.
I tend to look at the tarot as a way to figure out someone's particular story at one specific moment in time. Giving someone a reading involves identifying characters (the court cards become very useful with this!), figuring out what issue the hero is working through, what obstacles are in the way, and what possible endings lay ahead (a choose your own adventure approach is helpful because it shows that the future isn't set or permanent).
Conversely, I can use tarot, not just to figure out someone's story, but to tell a story myself. A lot of people ask me what I do when writer's block hits, and my answer is always simple—to write! Anything! And this, I feel, is where the tarot can come in really handy. If you're planning on doing Nanowrimo but are absolutely lost for words, you can pull some cards and let them clue you in on the stories you can tell.
One of my internet faves, Carrie Mallon, has often talked about using the tarot to spark creative writing through well thought out spreads. I do love myself a good tarot spread, but when I'm reading for myself, I do prefer to read more free-form. To help all you fellow writers out there, I'm going to show you below how pulls from a variety of tarot decks can be used to match the elements of a story that's just waiting to be told.
Character. Who's your story going to be about? Whether you want it to be an actual person, a place, or even an inanimate object, the cards can present you with different archetypes whose traits and ticks you can cherry pick from.
For example, I can use the young and fierce looking Maiden of Swords from the Lumina Tarot to inspire a naive heroine who's out to prove a point. She's whipsmart, beautiful, but still has a lot to learn in life. The Justice card from the Light Grey Tarot, on the other hand, can inspire the story of an old institution that is blind to the gray area's of society today—sounds like a great premise for a dystopian novel!
Setting. Scenic decks (anything RWS-based, typically) are perfect for providing you with different settings. Check out The Hanged Man of the Circo Tarot. The first thing that comes to mind is a colorful circus tent. Place the Maiden of Swords from the Lumina Tarot and you've got an environment that is rife with possibilities. Or how about turning an old-fashioned circus into the dystopian setting that the Justice card from the Light Grey Tarot inspired?
Time. You can turn to the cards to tell you how long your story will takes. Do you want it to stretch out over long periods of time? The Ace of Wands of the Small Spells Tarot shows a match being struck—that could signal a quick burst of energy. Maybe your story, for however long you want it to be (a few paragraphs to full chapters), can be contained within a very short timeframe.
Problem. If your character and setting haven't already provided you with a foreseeable issue or problem, you can pull yet another card. The Spirit card from the Vessel Oracle, to me, can symbolize the freedom you get once you detach yourself from physical constraints and live by the spirit. It can symbolize the Maiden of Swords' battle against whatever is forced upon her as a young woman, or it can also symbolize the dying spirit of the old institution that the Justice card represents.
Solution. A quick solution can come in the form of a single draw, or an even more in-depth spread. Just to make things more interesting, I thought of using an offshoot of the Past Present Future spread to provide us the eventual "solution" to our hero's issue.
Start. The Akashic Records reminds us of the collective knowledge we all have access to. The hero can start the journey with a challenge, but be inspired to meet it head on knowing that the answers are out there, ready to be discovered.
Rising Action. Divine guidance can provide the hero with a great push to embark on a mystical journey. The exact destination may or may not be clear and exacting, but the hero feels impelled to move forward, backward, sideways, and all around to get to the mysterious "there" that lies ahead.
Climax. Through our story, the hero is confident—up until we reach the climax where she or he is faced with the folly of his own naivete. There's nothing more humbling than being knocked off your high horse, is there?
Denouement. Much less exciting than the climax that precedes it, the falling action of a story is the bridge between the tipping point and the resolution. Our hero can finally experience the fruits of all his or her labors as the 7 of Bones is the Wooden Tarot deck's equivalent of the 7 of Pentacles. A little bit of relief comes after a good hit of reality.
End. The Lumina Tarot's 2 of Wands presents the hero with two distinct options. I like how this ending does wrap up this part of the story quite nicely, but leaves an opening for us to move forward and continue it.
Writing with the tarot can involve taking these simple points and filling in the gaps with our imagination. Having an outline to take you through the start to the end of a story, I find, is a big help in getting things done. And when you're a writer faced with a deadline and you're required to deliver something in a short span of time, you'll take inspiration wherever you can find it!
The tarot is incredibly rich and teaming with themes and characters we can play with. The fun part is that a card pull just provides the seed of an idea. We can change and tweak and play for as long as we want, until we finally get to a story we're happy with. I hope this technique helps you come up with your own fantastical, fun and freeing stories!