Monday, 5 October 2015

Using Tarot to Develop Your Story by Elizabeth Delisi

            My recent release, PRACTICAL PASSION, is an erotic romance with an underlying theme of the tarot. Tarot has been a steady interest for me for many years, and it’s associated with several of my books. FATAL FORTUNE, my first published novel, features a heroine (Lottie Baldwin) who is psychic and uses the tarot to solve mysteries. Thus, all the Lottie Baldwin mysteries include the tarot and I even commissioned a deck of tarot cards to go with the series. So it was natural to want to include a bit of tarot in PRACTICAL PASSION also.
            So, how can you use tarot to develop a story? There are as many methods as there are writers, but I’ll tell you how it works for me.
            First, a little history of the tarot. No one knows for certain when the cards were developed. We do know they probably originated in Northern Italy between 1420 and 1440, and were used in games as early as the year 1450. Several hundred years later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the cards were rediscovered by seekers of the occult. These 18th century tarot enthusiasts felt the cards had more meaning than a simple game, connecting the history of the tarot with their own imagined version of ancient Egypt. Secret societies connected the tarot with the Kabbalah and other ancient mysteries and cultures.
            Rumors of the cards’ evil caused some people fear the tarot. Over the years, Hollywood has portrayed the cards as something supernatural. Some claim they represent the Devil, while others say their use is forbidden in the Bible.
But the cards are simply a deck of seventy-eight cards with pictures on them that can be used to tap into your unconscious, to draw conclusions from the cards based on your own unique background, needs and experiences. You invest the cards with meaning, and that meaning is true for you alone. There are fairly standard meanings associated with each card, but individuals are encouraged to look deeper, to trust their instincts and use the meaning that "feels" right, even if it disagrees with tradition. Tarot helps you develop your instincts, your intuition, and learn from yourself. Plus, where else can you get 78 individual works of art that fit in your hand?
            According to Joan Bunning, author of LEARNING THE TAROT (Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1998), "The power of the tarot comes from this combination of the personal and the universal. You can see each card in your own way, but at the same time, you are supported by understandings that others have found meaningful. The tarot is a mirror that reflects back to you the hidden aspects of your own unique awareness."
So, how do you choose a tarot deck? I recommend you visit Aeclectic Tarot at  Do this when you have a good amount of free time...there are hundreds of decks to choose from and you’ll find yourself caught up, looking at all the gorgeous pictures of cards from different decks. One tip: don’t buy a deck that has “pip” cards for the Minor Arcana; i.e., the Minor Arcana cards simply picture four swords or seven cups. These decks require the reader to memorize the meanings of those cards, since it’s not evident from the artwork. Those decks are best suited to advanced readers. I also suggest you not purchase a deck with the meanings printed on the cards. This will limit your interpretation of the cards to what the publisher has printed on each one. You want to let your subconscious have free reign in the interpretation of the cards.
Whichever deck you choose, take time to become familiar with it. Shuffle the cards, and be sure to turn over the cards from left to right rather than bottom to top, so you don’t change the orientation of the cards. Study a particular card; try to imagine what the card expresses. For instance, the Three of Swords often shows a heart pierced with three swords, surrounded by rain and storms. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine this card may mean a broken heart. The Ten of Cups shows a man and woman standing in front of a lovely home and garden, with happy children playing at their feet and a rainbow of cups fanning out above their heads. You might decide this means a happy family life, prosperity, security, or peace.
Now that you’re familiar with your deck and have practiced interpreting the images on the cards, it’s time to use the deck for practice readings. One good way to become familiar with the tarot and with tarot spreads is to choose a daily card to represent the happenings or emotions of the upcoming day, and to record the card and your interpretation of it in a journal. Try to do your daily card reading first thing in the morning, and at the same time of day each day. Write down the card you chose and what you interpret it to mean. Then, at the end of the day, write in whether you feel the card interpretation accurately portrayed your day, and why or why not. As time passes, you’ll find your interpretations become more accurate.
Another practice reading to try is a Past/Present/Future reading. Take an issue you’re concerned about and would like some guidance on. Shuffle your deck, cut the cards, and lay out three cards in a row, left to right. The first card represents the past, the background of the situation; the middle card represents the present, the current situation you find yourself in; and the last card represents the future of your situation. Keep in mind the future isn’t fixed, and what choices you make can affect it. Also, when you’re doing a reading, you can always add an extra card to a particular position if you want to shed more light on that specific subject.
Now that you’re comfortable reading the cards, it’s time to work on your story. There are any number of ways to develop your characters. Some authors use a "character interview," some authors base their characters on real people, while other authors invent the characters as they go along to fit the needs of the story. One of the more interesting ways you can develop a character is to do so using your tarot cards.
It's best to have a few facts already in mind about your character, such as whether the character is male or female, hero or villain, young or old. With this brief idea of the character in mind, shuffle the cards and then cut the deck. Turn over the top card, and use your interpretation of the card as the main personality trait of your newly-created character.
Suppose I want to learn more about my heroine, a young woman in her twenties. I shuffle the cards, cut the deck, and turn over the Two of Swords. This shows a blindfolded young woman sitting on a stool, holding two swords crossed over her chest. I interpret this card to mean my character is indecisive, refusing to accept the truth and look at the facts. She is denying her true feelings, and thus she’s at an emotional impasse. She has the tools in hand she needs to cut through this murkiness, but she refuses to admit she has them, much less use them.
Now I have something that can be the basis of the conflict for the book. But this is hardly enough. What is my heroine refusing to accept? What’s the basis of her indecisiveness? I shuffle again and turn over another card. This time I draw The Lovers. Ah; my heroine is afraid of love. The thought of a committed, one-to-one-forever relationship scares her silly. But why does she feel this way?
The next card I draw is the Ten of Swords. This card depicts a man lying face-down on the ground, ten swords thrust into his back. My heroine has been betrayed by a man before; she's been stabbed in the back. Someone has won her heart, then dumped her and left her for someone else.
Who has done this to her? I turn over another card and get the Knight of Cups. This indicates the young man who broke my heroine's heart was fanciful, temperamental and moody. He was unable to face unpleasantness, and when the going got tough, he bowed out. He was there as long as things were light and fun, but the minute a bit of conflict came up, he was out the door and moving on to his next conquest.
So, this gives me a fairly good idea of my heroine’s main character traits and her difficulties that will tie into the plot of my story.
The example above relies on a single card to answer a single question. You might also turn over three cards in a row, representing the past or history of the main plot problem; the present situation; and the future or possible outcome. You could do a six-card spread, where you choose which six areas of your character you wish to focus on, and turn over one card for each. For example, you might pick family, love life, health, career, financial situation, and fears. The card you draw for each will shed light on that particular area. You can turn over additional cards to shed light on a particular area if you wish.
Now that you’ve had a little experience with your chosen tarot deck, interpreting the cards, and developing characters such as your hero or heroine (or both) and your villain, you’re ready to start using the tarot to work on your plot.
This may feel more difficult, because instead of asking questions about yourself and situations you’re familiar with, or a character who already has a shadowy reality in your mind, you’re starting with a blank slate. So be prepared to give it a little practice, and don’t worry if the first reading you do or first idea you come up with doesn’t pan out.
As before, you can invent your own spread for this exercise. I’ve fooled around with creating a spread on paper, and here’s what I came up with for myself:
X    X    X    X  - Row 4
X   X   X   - Row 3
X   X   - Row 2
X   - Row 1
So basically, it’s an upside down pyramid. Row 1 represents the background of the story. Row 2 represents the major plot line(s). Row 3 represents sub-plots and/or setbacks the characters will face. Row 4 represents the climax and the ending.
You can try my spread if you want to, or you can create one of your own. Just be sure you know in your own mind what each card position represents before you deal the cards.
First, choose the genre of the story you’re coming up with a plot for. That’s crucial, because the cards can be interpreted many ways, and you want your interpretation to mesh with your chosen genre. I’m going to do my exercise for a romantic suspense novel.
Here’s what I drew:
Row 1: Queen of Pentacles
Row 2: King of Pentacles, Nine of Swords
Row 3: Two of Cups, Ten of Wands, Page of Wands
Row 4: Ten of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles, The Magician, Queen of Swords
And here’s how I interpret the spread:
Row 1: Background. My main character is a loving, generous, down-to-earth type. She’s always there for her friends, her family, her nieces and nephews, pets. You name it, she’s there. Perhaps she has neglected her own needs from “being there” for everyone else. But she’s a big-hearted girl and she would never put herself first. Sometimes she feels she’s being taken advantage of...but no, she’s too trusting to really believe that for long.
Row 2: Into her life comes a man. He’s a terrific businessman, can take any enterprise and make it successful. He too is a giver, but he’s shrewd. He doesn’t let anyone take advantage of him.
The main character has run into some difficulty in her own life. Financial trouble, I’m thinking, since this reading has so many Pentacles cards. ;-) Maybe she’s lost her job, her employer says it’s because she’s taken so much time off work to help others. While she’s always there for others, they are most definitely NOT there for her with a dollar or two in her time of need. She has nightmares about losing her home. And then the phone calls start...people who call her in the middle of the night, and hang up when she answers. She gets threatening letters. Her whole life is becoming a nightmare, and she doesn’t know why.
She goes to the hero for help. At first he doesn’t want to help her, he feels she’s just using him and he’s wary of being used. But eventually he comes to believe she’s sincere and they investigate just what’s going on...
Row 3: What starts out as a partnership blossoms into a romance as the two of them work together. They struggle to solve the mystery...who is after her? Why? Is it connected to her firing? Or maybe to one of the people she’s helped, who turned her down when she was the needy one? Nothing comes easily, they feel they’re taking one step forward and two back. They come to realize they’ve been looking at it all wrong. Nothing is as it seems. A creative approach is needed to catch the bad guy...
Row 4: They doggedly pursue the bad guy, sometimes a little too zealously as they nearly get killed a time or two. But through hard work and perseverance, they finally discover she was fired because one of those people she helped is blackmailing her former employer about shady business practices he’s uncovered, and her employer thought she was in on it, so he fired her. Meanwhile, the blackmailer thought she was in on the shady business practices, and figured he could scare her into coughing up some blackmail money, too. Using the force of her personality, using emotional strength she never knew she had, she manages to talk the bad guy down long enough for the hero to capture him.
Naturally, she and the hero end up together in a permanent, lasting relationship they can build happy lives on. And what has she learned? To not take things at face value; to face the truth, even if it’s unpleasant; to size up a person and uncover their hidden motives before buying into what they say.
Admittedly, this is rough. But it’s the beginning of a’s a place to start. If I decide I want more details, I can lay out more cards for an in-depth look at any part of this. From here, since I’m an outliner, I’d probably start a detailed outline based on this reading. For those of you who don’t like to outline, you can jump in and start writing.

Isn’t it wonderful, how the tarot cards can help you develop your plot and characters? All you need is a deck you connect with, belief in yourself, and practice, practice, practice!

Julie Preston worked hard raising her younger sister Emily after their parents died, and creating a career. She gave up simple pleasures like love and relationships. So when a friend drags her to a singles bar, Julie’s ready for anything. She meets a gorgeous guy and they spend several passionate hours together. There’s real chemistry there, but Julie regretfully sticks to her promise: a one-night stand, no strings.
            When Julie hires a tutor to help Emily pass English, she’s shocked to find he’s the man from the bar. Seeing him in her house makes it hard to keep her hands off him, but he isn’t looking for a long-term relationship since he’s a singles bar patron. Right?
            How many miles can Julie jog before she gives in and jumps him?

...Julie dropped her purse on a table and her coat over a chair, and looked around the room. Clearly, the hotel got much of its business from the singles bar. Even ignoring the desk clerk’s knowing expression and wink, the room decor said it all. The drapes were red velvet; the bedspread red brocade with gold threads shot through it; and the walls covered in red and gold flocked wallpaper. It was schlocky, like something she expected to see in a honeymoon motel in the Poconos. No doubt there was also a heart-shaped tub in the bathroom. Ooh…maybe she could find some bubble bath? Surely a place like this would have it?
            Julie jumped at the sound of Stephen’s voice, feeling guilty for her wandering thoughts. “Sorry. Did you say something?”
“Is something wrong? Are you all right?” He frowned, looking concerned.
Julie felt the heat rise up her neck and into her cheeks. Here she was, standing in the middle of the room and zoning out. Or was she focusing on the furnishings because she was nervous about what was about to take place? After all, though she wasn’t a virgin, her experience was limited, and several years in the past. “I’m fine,” she said. “Nothing’s wrong.”
He smiled, a boyish dimple in his right cheek sending an arrow straight to her heart. “Although I hope you haven’t changed your mind, if you’re having second thoughts, it’s not too late to say so. I can take ‘no’ for an answer. I want that to be clear…we can stop at any time if you feel uncomfortable.”
“No, I’m not uncomfortable. Thank you, though. It’s just that I’ve…” Never done anything like this before. But she couldn’t say that. Stephen wouldn’t have come to a singles club to find a girl who didn’t know the ropes, would he? He probably did this every weekend—that thought sent a vicious stab of jealousy through her gut—and he expected she did also.
“I’m fine,” she repeated. “I was just woolgathering. Don’t worry. I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Good.” He stepped close to her and trailed the back of his hand over her cheek. “Because you’re an amazingly beautiful woman, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep my distance when I really want to—”
“Shh.” Julie put her index finger on his lips. His soft, warm, sexy lips. “Don’t say a word. You don’t have to say anything you don’t mean. I don’t expect any promises from you, any commitments. Let’s just be quiet and enjoy each other. After all, that’s why we’re here. Right?”
Stephen raised his eyebrows, opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it and nodded.
Julie stepped over to the window and drew the drapes shut. Then she turned on the radio, tuning it to a soft jazz station and lowering the volume to create a pleasing whisper of background sound.
She returned to Stephen and spread her hands out on his chest, savoring the feel of his strong pectoral muscles flexing under her fingers. She smiled a bit tremulously, but she knew this was right. It felt right...

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  1. I have always been interested in doing this! It sounds so interesting. Love the idea of using them for a story. Great post Thanks for sharing

  2. Great post, Liz! I just bought a simple Waite deck, and I still can't figure it out! But I need to study it, because my phony spiritualist heroine NEEDS me to :-)

  3. Love it! Thanks for being our guest and good luck with Practical Passion :)

  4. You're welcome, Debi. Try it out--it's a lot of fun.

    Alice, I so enjoy your Daisy Gumm Majesty stories. The book I mentioned, Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning, is a wonderful course and reference.

    Thanks, Lily. I'm delighted to be a guest on your site!

  5. Hmm. I don't have that one. I have The Complete Book of Tarot by Juliet Sharman-Burke and The Tarot by Nancy Shavick. Must check out the Bunning book. I hate to admit it, but when I have a knotty tarot question, I generally ask you :-)


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