One of my favorite things about tarot cards is how rich in detail each card is, whether you know anything about the numerology or symbology layered into the card’s history or not. This makes using tarot as a writing tool extremely effective, since even the most novice of tarot readers can derive some meaning from the imagery.
Plus, as a writer, it’s pretty much your job to turn concepts into plots and an internal image or vision into a rich character or compelling narrative. This gives you a bit of a cheat code to tarot reading!
So let’s put this hidden skill you didn’t even know you had into action by using a custom tarot spread to develop the skeleton of a manuscript outline.
Tarot Cards for Storytellers 101
As a reminder, in Part 1, we learned that a tarot deck consists of 78 cards, each with its own meaning and symbolism. They’re often used for divination, but have many more uses, too! Including as a creative writing tool. You might use them to get quick inspiration when you’re feeling stuck, use mini spreads (aka a sequence of multiple cards in a row) to build a character, or research the meaning behind tarot cards to inspire a story or setting.
But you can also leverage complex spreads to get more specific and granular while plotting. Let’s take a look at a custom spread to see how the random fall of the cards can lead to creative ideas and interesting storylines.
Your DIVINE Spread
First, let’s review the spread I’ve designed just for you! This spread consists of six slots, each with its own purpose in building out your novel outline.
This spread uses six tarot cards, and is designed to help you determine the why, who, and what of your story. We’ll start with our why and who first, and with that taken care of, we’ll let the cards figure out what sort of chaos we’ll put them through in the beginning, middle, and end of their journey.
D – What does your protagonist desire?
I – What is an important factor to your character’s identity?
V – Who or what is the villain of the story?
I – What is the inciting incident of this story?
N – What causes the nadir, or the low point, for your protagonist?
E – How does your protagonist change by the end?
So let’s give our deck a little shuffle, and see what pops up!
And in case you’re wondering, there’s no “right way” to shuffle tarot cards. It’s what feels right to you! I like to shuffle at least four times to really mix things up. If I’m feeling really crazy, I ask my cat to rub her head on my cards as my personal, fluffy muse.
I’ll be using The Star Child Tarot deck, which has stunning multimedia images and really reflects my own writing brand of mystical, contemporary fantasy. But you can use whatever tarot or oracle card deck you’d prefer.
Now let’s get divining.
Alright, the cards have been laid, and here’s what I got. Let’s pretend I’ll be using this spread to come up with the concept for my next contemporary fantasy novel.
Card 1: What does my protagonist desire?
Answer: Three of Cups.
The cupeth is fulleth! When I look at this card I get a sense of supreme, emotional and intuitive power. Waterfalls are running into cups, the moon is full, the sky is alight with stars and colorful galaxies. It all aligns directly to an ancient pyramid.
Translated to character desire? To me, it feels like an abundant, joyful life. My character wants to be happy, and surrounded by people that make her feel alive and aligned. Of course, we’re not going to make it easy for her. That wouldn’t be a fun novel at all.
Card 2: What is an important factor to my character’s identity?
Answer: Eight of Cups
A prettily dressed woman is surrounded by cups, looking out upon the beach as if waiting for her crew to show up.
My girl likes to party. She likes to be at the center of a crowd. She loves fashion and looking cute, and being told she’s cute. She is the consummate hostess. Perhaps she’s even built a brand around this? Maybe she’s an event planner. Whatever the case, she does not like to be alone, and has designed her life to avoid having to spend too much time navel-gazing.
Because she comes from a long line of psychics and mediums, and she’s seen how little indulging in that family trait has gotten them. She’s decided that being happy means being as normal as possible.
Card 3: Who or what is the villain of the story?
Answer: The Wheel of Fortune
The name of this card says it all for me.
Times they are a-changin’. I’m starting to get the feeling that my character is meant to be maturing out of her party-heavy twenty-something life as she enters her thirties, but has been very resistant to this maturation. Meanwhile, all her friends are getting married and having babies or moving to the suburbs, leaving her her least favorite thing: alone.
So the villain here is time itself, something that cannot be fought, only lived. And she’s been fighting the power of time and the messages hidden within it her entire life.
Card 4: What is the inciting incident of the story?
Answer: Page of Cups
The page of cups loosely holds a goblet. So immediately my head goes to “party.” Which is fitting!
I’m picturing this: it’s a work happy hour and my protagonist (let’s call her Miranda) has had a few too many glasses of Pinot Grigio. She drinks to drown out the visions she sometimes gets when she’s overstimulated.
She’s at the point of being drunk where she thinks she is hilarious and bold, but really she’s embarrassing and stupid. She gets it on her mind to jump on the bar and show off her old dance team moves she learned in high school…and then she falls off. And then she gets kicked out of the bar in front of all her co-workers.
Miranda realizes that it’s time to grow up and learn how to control her powers. But where to even begin?
Card 5: What causes the nadir for your protagonist?
Answer: Akashic Records
The Akashic Records is an esoteric concept in which everything that has ever or will ever happen to us is recorded in a mystical book we can tap into via meditation and spiritual journeying.
This feels super out there. A moment in which Miranda is forced to reckon with her gift…or else. Perhaps she develops a new power that overwhelms her just when she thought she had a handle on her first one. And it overwhelms her to the point of passing out at work.
When Miranda comes to, she’s had a vision about the future of the company. Her boss, thinking Miranda is drunk on the job, fires her.
Card 6: How does your protagonist change by the end?
Answer: Five of Swords
A winged woman stands in the desert, hands outstretched. She is surrounded by swords, all at the ready but none in use. She is like a valkyrie, waiting for the call to battle.
Near the end of the story, Miranda finally convinces her boss that she wasn’t drunk. And that they need to listen to her or risk the company going under. She finally gets to use her clairvoyant power in public, and save the company and community she loves from certain ruin.
Miranda realizes that she’s been hiding from her real purpose her whole life. She’s finally ready to follow her destiny. Because she can’t be happy until she feels whole. And she can’t be whole until she embraces her powers and uses them for good.
Now It’s Your Turn
So there you have it: six cards, one story. We took Miranda from party girl to professional psychic…with a bit of tumult and heartbreak mixed in for good measure.
And now it’s your turn. Get your deck, give it a shuffle, and see what stories the tarot cards want YOU to tell.
Tell us in the comments: What kind of outline did your tarot cards create for your novel?
Ashley Christiano is a fantasy writer, experienced tarot reader, and professional astrologer. As The Novel Mystic, she combines the power of astrology, tarot, and creative writing to empower women, educate the Astro-curious, and inspire her own storytelling.