Redux: tarot for writers?

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What secrets do my characters hold?

Tarot cards, particularly in the U.S., hold quite the stigma, particularly for their use to divine the future. Prior to that use, they started as a playing card game. Tarot cards also have a use for nailing down/expanding characters, creating new characters, or sparking the creative juices of their author’s. I just ask readers to keep an open mind: Tarot cards are after all not inherently evil.

Tarot Decks

There are a wide variety of tarot card decks to choose from, including the Universal Waite Tarot Deck, Arthurian tarot card deck, The Celtic Dragon Tarot Deck — just to name a few. Personally, I own the Medieval Scapini Tarot and the Universal Fantasy Tarot card decks. Each deck comes with the traditional 78-card-deck, plus an instructional book that shares the meaning of each of the cards. Personally, I prefer the instructional book that comes with the Medieval Scapini deck as it provides a list of words that get my brain pumping rather than a statement that is often vague.

For example, the entry for The Popess in the Medieval Scapini is: wisdom, sound judgment, common sense, learning, serenity, objectivity, etc. The Universal Fantasy Tarot deck’s entry is: If we look serenely within ourselves, we can find the light that shows the way to discernment; personally, especially when I place the cards in my writer’s card layout, I get nothing from that. Others, however, might be able to work with card decks with such statements like the Fantasy Tarot deck, depending on the layout type you choose to use.

My advice when searching for a deck is to research each one carefully before putting money down, especially since tarot decks can be rather expensive. Tarot decks can be found for sale online at as well as in bookstores like Barnes & Noble.

Writer’s Tarot Layout: “Honest Abe”

The tarot layout I use was self-created with one of my writing friends and is a character layout that looks at a characters: family/childhood (Card One), relationships (Card Two), strengths (Card Three), virtues (Card Four), disposition (Card Five), motivations (Card Six), quirks (Card Seven), weakness (Card Eight) and fears (Card Nine). The shape looks like a man with a stovepipe hat — hence the layout name “Honest Abe.” All the cards are placed vertically in the layout unless otherwise noted.

Card 1

Card 2 (placed horizontal at the bottom of 1)

Card 3 —— Card 4

Card 6 (horizontal) —– Card 5 —- Card 7 (horizontal)

Card 8 ——– Card 9

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The “Honest Abe” character spread, created by a friend and myself

The symbolism of the layout is as follows: we are all influenced by our family and our childhoods, which is why it is card one, the relationship card lays horizontal at the bottom of card one because our family and childhood often influences how we react with others; card three and card four make up the “eyes” of layout, which show the character’s inner bests, as it were, and what they see as virtues; disposition (card 5) is the core of the layout; motivations and quirks (cards 6 & 7) are the arms of the character as they suggest motions and action; and finally weaknesses and fears (cards 8 and 9) make up the character’s legs as they are entities that can keep a person grounded, unable to reach motivations and potential.

In the next section, I will combine everything and show how it is done, using a random new character called Carola.

How It Works: Character Sample “Carola”

For this example, I will use the Medieval Scapini and its instructional book, which I also use with the Universal Fantasy Tarot. Note the below examples are my own personal interpretations but the cards can be interpreted in many different ways, and writers should use what knowledge they have of their characters to shape their readings.

Carola’s family/childhood: The first card is the Four of Coins, which uses words like love of material wealth, hoarder, miser, ungenerous person, and so on. From these words, one might determine that potentially one of Carola’s parents was ungenerous, possibly not as warm and supportive to her. Depending on the cards, surrounding this one, more ideas may crop up in regards to this childhood and how it has affected her. It should also be noted that the ungenerous person might not be a parent; they could be someone else who has had a lasting impact on Carola.

The second card (The Two of Cups), her relationships, shows love, friendship beginning and renewed, passion, union, engagement, marriage, among other similar words. Carola would seem to be very open, loving person, who is possibly engaged or married. She also would appear to be a good friend.

For the third card, I turn over the Ace of Cups. Words used to describe the card include: great abundance, perfection, joy, productiveness, goodness overflowing, among others. Carola’s strength is that she does not linger on downside of things, choosing instead to focus on the positive. She is also very productive rather being lazy.

The fourth card, Eight of Wands, showcases Carola’s virtue is swift activity that fits her strength of productivity. The other words (such as hastily made decisions, too rapid advancement, etc.) that are represented in the card do not fit the circumstances of virtue so I choose to ignore them and focus on the word that sticks with me.

Justice is the fifth card, Carola’s disposition, and it reads fairness, harmony, balanced, equity, righteousness, virtue, honor, virginity, firmness of character, a person who response favorably to the good nature of others, a considerate person, and so on. All the above speak to Carola’s disposition, and they seem to fit with the person the previous cards have been painting.

Card six gives us our first reversal: Page of Coins in reverse. A reversal is when a card is upside down to the reader; in this case, the card was horizontal so when it is turned clockwise to become vertical the image on the card is upside down. In reverse, the card means an unrealistic person, failure to recognize obvious facts, dissipation of ideas, illogical thinking, rebelliousness, wastefulness and unfavorable news. Now these do not should like good motivations, do they? They also don’t seem to fit with what we know of Carola so far. So what do we take from this card? Personally, I think it reveals a second character; possibly some on Carola cares for who is making bad decisions, someone she wants to help, which is her motivation. Of course, like all cards, someone else could see something completely different.

Quirks, Knight of Wands, shows that faced with departure or a journey, Carola can be flighty, which is a very broad interpretation given the words: departure, a journey, advancement into the unknown, alteration, flight, absence and change of residence.

Ace of Swords is drawn for weaknesses, card 8: great determination, initiative, strength, force, activity, excessiveness, triumph, power, success, deep emotional feeling, love, championship and conquest. What weaknesses do I draw from this? Carola can be excessive with her productivity and approach to others. She also wears her emotions on her sleeve and might feel her emotions too deeply. She also might get ahead of herself with her determination.

Her fears, card nine, is The Fool. The following words stick out to me: new adventure, frenzy, lack of discipline, immaturity, irrationality, mania, spontaneity, carelessness in promises, infatuation and indiscretion. Carola does not like things out of order. She is possibly concerned that her love is being met with infatuation instead of being equally returned.

Once fully put together, the cards paint a pretty good picture of this new character; sometimes, the cards don’t. However in failing, they usually get a writer’s mind consider why the character does not fit, which in return can lead to the character the writer was really aiming for. Sometimes, it takes going through multiple character layouts to hit some gold that leads to the creation a fitting character or to expand on an existing character.

Trying Without A Tarot Deck

For those wishing to try the layout without a deck, visit, where you will be able to do a free reading with a choice between several different decks. There is no need to input your name, simply input into the question section the name of card slot, such as “family,” “relationships,” until all 9 slots in the “Honest Abe” layout have been asked. For the spread, pick one card spread, and see what you get.


Tarot cards are only a tool for brainstorming; writers need to also consider the needs of their story to know if the ideas the cards are giving work within it. Sometimes, readings may not give ideas while other times one or two nuggets may be uncovered. Sometimes, you might just be blown away by the amount of information you are given that triggers something in your mind. At one time, I ran a well-developed character through the layout and was shocked when the cards I had picked proceeded to tell his whole story as I had envisioned it.

The key to this method is to remember: You are the writer. This is your work. You don’t have to take everything from the reading.


Published by smwright

Sarah Wright is the author of The Heritage Lost Series and several other works of speculative fiction. Professionally, she works as a staff writer and editor at a newspaper/magazine company. She enjoys interweaving her love of history into her writing, even in the most fantastic settings.

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