Friday, May 21, 2010

Outlining by Tarot

So, here I am. I have three bonafide writing projects going, and a couple more in stasis. All have found new life partly because of  some very nice usable writing software I've reported on before. All three main projects are also now nominally outlined, at least as much if not more than I have ever done in the past, using my tarot tool.

Here's how it works. Some knowledge of the tarot in general is helpful, but not critical. I have been taking classes from my tarot-teacher partner, Cat Dancing, and it has been a great help. The information is available in a lot of places, however. I'll give some basics below. For the most part this is directed only at using the tarot as a writing tool. Reading the tarot is a whole different subject!

If you know nothing yet about the tarot, think of a deck of regular playing cards. Usually, the court cards have pictures of the king, queen, jack. The numbered cards only have groupings of the suit, 5 clubs, 3 hearts, etc. A "standard" tarot deck has those same cards with two big differences. The suits are swords, cups, pentacles, and wands. Also, the court cards have one more character with king, queen, knight, page. This group of cards in a tarot deck are called the minor trumps. In addition, the tarot deck includes major trumps, a group of twenty two other cards including: The Fool, The Lovers, The Sun, and so on.

I have a lot of tarot decks. Most came from garage sales, personal gifts, and the local Half Price Books store. I used to collect the decks just for the art. Only a few do I actually read with, and not all would be much help for writing purposes. One of the best basic decks for this would be the standard Rider - Waite - Smith deck. (Let's call it the RWS for short) This one can be found almost anywhere. The selling point for this deck is that every card is illustrated with a scene. Some of the decks available only show the groups of each suit, much like those playing cards. The RWS deck, as I said, has a scene for each card. It is this that can give a new tarot reader, as well as a writer,  some clues on meanings of cards. I would consider the RWS deck the basic deck for this, although there are several newer decks derived from that one that may speak to different writers even more clearly. One that I currently like is the Cosmic Tarot, by Norbert Losche. (U.S. Games). The characters appearing in this deck seem vaguely familiar, as if they were based on various classic film stars. This goes a long way for me in suggesting characters. Another interesting one is the "Flash Card Tarot" by Linda Nadeau. This deck has some rather unusual but often useful illustrations on one side, and the meanings and description on the back. It can be a useful imagination spark.

Now that you have your deck. You need some way to interpret the cards. First, try just studying each card, see what it suggests to you. Your first and best guide is your own intuition! Most decks come with their own little book, sometimes a big book, that explains the meanings. Let that be your second resource. Not everything listed in the card descriptions will be useful in your writing, but some will suggest ideas to you. There are many other books online and in print that give card information. The ultimate would be "Tarot for Writers" by Corinne Kenner. (See my link below). Ms. Kenner describes each card and what is useful for the writer, as well as giving many useful "spreads" or layouts to use. Corinne Kenner also has a useful companion book, "Tarot Journaling" that is just that, using the tarot to journal more effectively.

Now that we have those basics out of the way. Here is how I use the cards:

1. Outlining a book - Give some thought to what you intend to do. Let's say you want to pick a card for each division of the planned work. This might be chapters for a book, scenes for a play, perhaps steps in the journey. Come up with a usable number. I like to think it chapters, if I am working on a book. Forty-four is a sort of average number of chapters for many novels.
Shuffle the cards a number of times. Seven times is supposed to guarantee randomness. I personally shuffle three times, cut, then shuffle one more time. People draw cards in various ways. I like to just deal off the top of the deck in the order they are in. If we are outlining forty-four chapters, deal the cards out face up one by one in four rows of eleven.
Some of the cards will be upright, some may be reversed. If we want added complexity, we can take the reverses into account, or we can simply see them all as upright. Make a list of the cards. I use the novel software I'm using (yWriter5 in this case) and note the card into each chapter notes. As you note each card, notice anything that catches your attention about the card that may indicate character, or plot, or setting, anything, and write that down as well. You might then look up each card in one of those books or resources and make additional notes.
It may be that some of the chapters thus laid out may need to be re-arranged for better flow. It's okay to do that. You can even discard cards that don't seem to work, and draw new ones. The tarot police won't care. This is your tool, you use it however works best for you. In my initial layout for my mystery novel, the first card drawn didn't really work for me as first chapter, however, I put is aside as an indicator of overall story, and used the second card as first chapter, and the rest fell into place pretty well. Don't be afraid to deviate. This is just a starting place, idea material. Once you have the larger divisions, the chapters, laid out in this manner, you may want to re-shuffle and draw cards for minor divisions, like scenes. It's all up to you. As for meanings, you can be literal, or imaginative. The Death card may mean a literal death, in your story, or it may be a major transition of some sort. The Fool can mean an innocent stumbling into the scene, or it might be time to look at things from a fresh point of view, to use "beginner mind" as the Zen teachers put it.

2. Character - You can draw cards to help define your characters, maybe even suggest names (with some imagination.) The court cards are most helpful for this, although any of the other cards can also suggest characters, or the character's traits. As you make a bio for your characters, use the tarot to suggest entries for those areas that aren't clear to you yet, background, habits, goals, that sort of thing. Simplest would be one card for one item, see what it suggests. Many times I use a 3 card spread. I do the usual shuffle, cut the deck somewhere near the center. The top card in the exposed half is the middle card. The card just below it is the third card, and the card that was just above it is the first card in the three card row. These three can mean many things, but I usually rank them in some sort of past, present, future context about whatever I'm getting a reading on. I just pulled three cards in this fashion. The Hermit, Justice, and the Chariot. I'm using the Cosmic Tarot deck. The Hermit shows a mystical guru type, almost a stereotypical hippy, sitting in the night near a lantern. A seeker. Also someone to seek out for knowledge, perhaps. Justice shows a woman with a crown between night and day. Scales of balance are in front of her, she sees truth. The Chariot shows a chariot, pulled by two wild horses, one black, one white, being driven by a kingly figure away from a castle. What might this mean to you? Perhaps it is a character, loner type, with a non-traditional education, seeks justice as society dictates, but is trampled by the established justice system.

3. Series - I projected my mystery novel into a series of novels with the same protagonist and settings. I spent a lot of enjoyable time inventing his hometown, and peopling it with interesting characters, why not make further use of it all? Besides, as I did all that background, I came up with a few ideas of other stories to tell. So, I thought, how about twelve books ? I did a twelve card layout similar to the "chapter" spread above. I let each card represent a book. Interestingly, the stories I had already thought of fit rather well into one of the twelve topics. In some cases titles were even suggested by the cards and the imagined situation. So, now I have a rough outline of where the whole series is going. That's good to have for any kind of series character.
For instance, The Hanged Man card came up. One of my ideas was a mystery involving genealogy. Bingo! Another card was the Wheel of Fortune. Ready made spot for something about the lottery!

These three techniques can give you a starting place. Enjoy!

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