Spice up your writing routine

Have the writing blues? Try a new location.
Have the writing blues? Try a new location.

Have you ever found yourself in a rut? One where the words just aren’t coming, and you are losing focus or interest in your project? I know I have! And during such times, I have often found getting the spark back is easier when I shake up my writing routine and try things out of my norm.

Try Visiting New Locales

Whether it is a new spot in your home or your favorite coffeehouse, sometimes removing yourself from your normal writing spot is enough to get writing juice flowing again. Not only does a new location remove distractions, it also stimulates your mind. While working on my final revisions, I would set aside Sundays to visit a local coffeehouse, The Electric Brew, in order to achieve focus. Just stepping outside of the norm was enough to drive my writing by preventing me from losing focus; after all, I was there for a purpose — besides, the coffee, tea and pastries.

The next idea comes from the NaNoWriMo community and is branch off going to a new location: write-ins. You gather a bunch of fellow writers, corral them at a location — more likely than not, a coffeehouse — and you write. The sound of clacking keyboards is so soothing and motivating as are the mini-conversations that crop up on occasion. Write-ins’ powers go beyond just setting the right mood; they also provide accessible go-to-help when you get stuck in a section since you can get opinions and advice from fellow writers who are on hand. This can also be done on a small scale with just a friend or two for the same effect.

Change That Track

Write to music? I know I do! When I start feeling stale, sometimes a switch in writing soundtracks is just enough for my mind to click with a scene. For the most part, I stick with instrumental CDs and movie soundtracks since I largely find songs with lyrics distracting; however, sometimes out of the blue, a weird song choice will get the juices flowing — “Baby Mine” sung by Alison Krauss doing a battle scene (Don’t ask, I don’t know why). It is definitely worth exploring song choices to set the mood of different scenes and chapters. Pandora and other similar online radio streamers are also good choices and can lead to some great artist/album finds.

Goad Yourself With Unique Tools

This is another idea from the NaNoWriMo community, namely glow sticks. The idea is that you activate the glow stick, and during that period of time until it burns out, you write like a mad person. Writers can also set challenges for themselves to write x-amount of words before the glow stick dies.

Candles are another option though more for setting a fun atmosphere — most candles take a long time to burn out — especially if your novel takes place in an era prior to electricity. Of course, some people’s eyes can’t handle this, so try this one at your own discretion!

Set writing atmosphere with candles
Set writing atmosphere with candles.

(Writer’s Note: Do you have another method that you use to spice up your writing routine? Share it in the comment section, I would love to hear your methods!)

Female characters: living in a male-dominated world

Do not be fooled: Women do not have to be Xena to be powerful in eras where men were in control. (“Duet” by Mieris Frans)

Female characters can be challenging to write, particularly when they are placed in male-dominated worlds/eras, and often come in two extremes: damsels-in-distress/story wallpaper/the romantic interest or a man with boobs. Writers, in many cases, seem to think that to have a strong female character, they have to have great physical strength. While it is true that modern audiences expect “strong” female characters, they also want them to be real, not just Rambo with boobs.

My fantasy novels are based on a continent that is patriarchal — albeit the different countries have different views of women’s place in society and their rights — yet I am a woman, so why would I choose such a set up? The answers is quite simple: I like to challenge my characters — female or male, it does not matter. A patriarchal world also allows me to explore social issues, some that are still present today — while not necessarily to the same extreme — thus challenging my own writing skills. Personally, it also makes me smile at my female characters’ abilities to overcome in their own unique ways; just like women today, each of my female characters have their own identities and thoughts on what it means to be a woman, thus they handle themselves differently.

When I approach my characters, who live in an era similar to the late 1600s-early 1700s, I often take inspiration from historical women. Not all were powerless and subservient to the men in their life, albeit there were victims to the system and those who had no thought of ever going against the flow.

Noblewomen and queens — like Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine the Great, Catherine de’ Medici and many more — wielded eminence power from influence of their husbands and their sons to reigning solo or as regents. Patronage was another sphere of influence these women had. Isabella of Castile had to struggle for her birthright, but once in power, she reformed her country while also pulling it out of debt. Isabella’s daughter, Catherine of Aragon, was also very impressive in her own right, serving as the first female ambassador in European history and as regent of England while her husband, Henry VIII, was away in France; unfortunately, Catherine also met great misfortune due to her husband’s ambitions and the patriarchal system.

Christine de Pizan

Noblewomen were not the only movers in shakers in history with women finding ways of expressing themselves spiritually and through writing. Christine de Pizan was a medieval writer who wrote in the vernacular (in her case Middle French) and challenged misogyny. Julian of Norwich is another woman writer, and her “Revelations of Love” is believed to be the earliest work in English that was written by a woman.

Another woman of interest is Hildegard von Bingen, who was a jack-of-trades of sorts. Hildegard was a writer, composer (there is a lovely CD with some of her songs), philosopher, mystic, abbess, visionary and polymath; she even dabbled in botany and medicine. Hildegard transcended the bans that forbid women from teaching scripture and even corresponded with popes, statesmen and emperors.

Emilia Plater
Emilia Plater

Of course, there were some women kicking butt, such as Joan of Arc, and much later, Emilia Plater, a Polish-Lithuanian noblewoman and revolutionary. However, such women, like Joan and Emilia, are rare and far between, so depending on your world or the era you are working in, there probably will not be many women in such positions, but that does not mean that a point can’t present itself where you female character can pick up arms: The only requirement is that it is done in a manner that is believable for the setting.

There are several other women throughout history and beyond Europe who are bound to inspire writers; I only had so much space and so very little time to barely scrape the tip of the iceberg.

It is, however, important to note, while crafting female characters in patriarchal settings, writers need to consider that their characters will still be the product of the era/culture that they grew up in. While your female character might voice radical ideas for their time, it is highly unlikely their ideas would go quite as far as modern day viewpoints. Similarly, not all women will be of the same opinion, so it is good to have a variance of characters with different viewpoints to ground each other. Writers should also realize that social changes will not occur instantaneously with sudden change being unbelievable. One simple has to look at our world with racial integration and equal rights.

Similarly, not only the oppressed will have radical views. There have been men throughout history who have stood next to women, voicing women’s right to education and so on.

I highly recommend hitting the books, as it were, and researching different eras, particularly books that focus on women. There are a lot more out there as historians explore women’s place in history, a subject that for the longest time went ignored. In particular, I recommend “The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing,” which delves into medieval women’s lives and experiences through various kinds of text — please note, it is not easy reading. Of course, there are several other women studies books, in addition to individual biographies, to choose from.

Personal style guides and why you need them

Whether on the computer or on paper, writers need to consider creating personal style guides.
Whether on the computer or on paper, writers need to consider creating personal style guides.

I’m not talking about “The Chicago Manual of Style,” “AP,” “MLA,” or any of the rest — no, I’m talking about writers creating their own personal style guide tailored to their novel or series — particularly fantasy and sci-fi writers. Why? Speculative fiction writers in general are prone to using names even words that are not English; the same could also be applied to writers in other genres, too. After all, especially if you have a cast of several, spellings can become muddled over the course of a long manuscript, even if they are only morphed by a letter or two.

These inconsistencies can add up during revisions, taking time to correct and, in some cases, determine the originally intended spelling. A personal style guide cuts down on this time by being a compilation of all the correct spellings in one handy place. Beyond helping with revisions, style guides will also help while writing.

I started my own personal style guide after one of my readers suggested it, and it has more than proved its worth. I have been able to use it to help straighten out a few spellings that were a few letters off from previous entries, in addition to looking at it for spellings rather than having to pour through previous chapters hunting for words. Since words are placed in alphabetical order, I can easily find entries to settle any questions I might have.

Beyond setting different spellings in stone, I have also included dictionary-like definitions or little notes for myself and eventually hope to include pronunciation guidelines. Thanks to Microsoft Word I have been able to use bookmarks and in-document hyperlinks to make for easy navigation to each letter section and back to the top, thus making my job as a writer much easier.

The closing of one chapter, the beginning of another

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Hard to believe it is almost time to start the querying stage!

I’ve finally completed the last major revisions to “Passage,” my fantasy novel, and have just made a print-out, in order to do a final read-through to catch any errors that made it through several rounds of revisions — because truth be told nothing can beat having a print out. Errors stick out more on a print-out than when staring at a computer screen. You also have the ability to scribble notes in the margins, which for whatever reason seem to flow more effortlessly from one’s mind to one’s hand and onto the page when compared to comment bubbles in word processors.

There is just a closeness with a print-out that is missing when sitting in front of a computer. Writers also risk skimming over errors while editing in a word processor or even worse unintentionally introducing new errors to their manuscript (I know I have experienced this, a missed key here or an accidental hit of another key, etc.). When polishing a manuscript, it is important to eliminate as many mistakes as possible; after all, a manuscript laden with errors is not bound to make it very far.

I am looking forward to my final read-through, especially since it will be my first time just reading through without a chapter by chapter approach, in addition to not making any major revisions. This time I’m looking at the entirety of the novel, looking for grammatical errors, awkward wording, continuity errors, etc.  To help me along, I’m using highlighters, numbered lines, a notebook, and of course, my trusty red pen.

The numbered lines will allow me to make detailed notes about sections that are still not quite what they should be in my notebook while colored highlighters will point out instances of continuity errors, sections where a character is not quite the way they should be, or areas that are still not up to snuff. And of course, the red pen is for about everything else. Hopefully, when all is said and done, my manuscript won’t be too colorful.

Once the read-through is complete and changes incorporated into the manuscript, I will begin the agent querying process with the hopes of being published by a traditional publisher. I decided to go this route since a majority of fantasy publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, and at the publishing firms that do accept them, manuscripts automatically go into the slush pile, where it will have to go against great odds to catch notice.

Self-publishing is another option that has become more viable nowadays and in some cases has even proved successful, especially with the advent of e-books and social media. However, I want to try the traditional route first, and give myself more time research self-publishing in depth. In the meanwhile, I will share my experiences as I start navigating the publishing industry.

A fantasy writer’s pet peeve: Stop screaming anachronism

What do you mean, there were no castles in pre-Norman England?!

What is an anachronism, you ask? Merriam Webster’s definition is as follows: 1. an error in chronology, especially a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other; 2. a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place, especially one from a former age that is incongruous in the present; and 3. the state or condition of being chronologically out of place.

An example of an anachronism is as follows: You are reading a book that takes place during the Civil War and penicillin is used to treat infections. What is the problem with this? Well, penicillin was not discovered until 1928 by Alexander Fleming. For a funny example of a lot of anachronisms, visit The Sage’s Master Piece Fanfic Theatre.

Where My Peeve Comes In…

It never fails when someone reads my fantasy novel I will get complaints about anachronisms: “Would they have that back then?” The addition of the “back then” usually makes me sigh as by that they are referring to medieval Europe — even though my world/continent resembles a 1700s Europe more, most readers are too used to fantasy taking place in medieval times, so they automatically assume that time period no matter how many clues are placed that point to another era. And that is where my pet peeve resides.

“Back then” does not work with my world: It is not Earth. My world has developed in a different way and has its own history that while inspired from some of Earth’s historical events stands on its own. For an example, there is no Christianity, no Islam, no Buddhism, and so on in my world. The religions of my world, while some might bear some resemblance to earthly ones, have allowed for quicker medical discovers without religion preventing certain medical studies, such as cadaver research. And that is really just the tip of the iceberg of small changes here and there that have affected the development of my world, well really just one continent that like Japan went through a period of time where it was isolated from the rest of the world.

Of course, not all fantasy and science fiction novels are exempt from anachronisms. If you are going to have you space crew travel back in time to 1951 Earth, ‘In God We Trust’ should not appear on U.S. paper currency (it did not appear until 1957). Similarly, fantasy writers who simply take on a medieval setting without fleshing it, or their world, out may stretch their readers’ suspension of disbelief passed its limits since they have not been given any reason to expect technology or items that are not from Earth’s medieval period.

Fantasy writers need to know their creation inside and out to know what is possible within it and why. Hard rules need to be set and stuck to. Fantasy writers should also avoid ill-fitting descriptions, e.g. “as fast as a jet plane,” in a world that does not have jet planes.

However, writers need to know and accept they cannot appease everyone; there will always be someone who will nitpick a word for being too modern despite the word having actually been around since the late-1600s. With this in mind, fantasy writers need to write what they want to write and what is right for their story while still maintaining logical rules.

Book Review: “The Emotion Thesaurus”

resized by half
Several reactions to a variety of emotions

I had been eying “The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression” when suddenly I realized I had inadvertently purchased it for the Kindle app on my phone; however, that mistake proved quite fortuitous.

As the name suggests the book is a thesaurus with each entry being an emotion, such as “Anger,” “Confidence,” “Desperation,” and so on. Each of these entries then contain a definition of the emotion followed by physical signals, internal sensations a character might feel and mental responses, in addition to cues of being conflicted over the long term and cues when suppressing the feeling. Each entry also includes a writer’s tip.

Like all thesauruses, writer’s need to be careful on how they use it (in the future, I will be writing an article on thesaurus abuse); it is not a cure all, but it might be able to get the creative juices going to great unique, realistic reactions. Writer’s who purchases need to remember the book is a thesaurus, a tool not a how-to-guide. Some entries can be short, which is why I recommend also checking the entries of related emotions to further expand on possible reactions.

All in all, I highly recommend this book for writers’ bookshelves as a potential useful tool, especially when you find your characters over the course of the novel constantly using the same reactions e.g., sighing, scowling, etc.

What is even better is the authors of “The Emotion Thesaurus” are donating a portion of their profits to The Heifer Project, a great program that address world hunger through giving livestock (like pigs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, etc.) to families in need, even training them how to properly care for them. Through the program, these families are given the tools to not only provide for themselves but potentially earn a living selling products from their animal e.g., eggs, milk, etc.

It is a project particularly close to my heart since it was started by my church denomination (Church of the Brethren), and my mother, who was an elementary school teacher, would often raise money with her students for the project. After my mother passed, we continued that tradition by donating part of the funeral donations to The Heifer Project; the rest into a scholarship in her memory.

The authors also have a very informative blog that contains additional thesauruses, plus supplemental material to “The Emotion Thesaurus” (like how men and women react differently to certain emotions).

A writer’s worst nightmare and lessons learned

Technical errors can and will happen when you least expect them to.

Always save files regularly, constantly back files up: This is the mantra of all writers — or at least, it should be. Surprisingly while most writers will constantly save their work as they write, they do not always make regular up-to-date copies on multiple devices. Personally, I had gotten into a routine of saving a copy to a USB flash drive and on my computer, usually a copy a piece on both my desktop and laptop. However, I grew complacent and then Murphy’s law struck: I lost the final revisions to my novel, setting me back several months.

I had started to only save files on my flash drive as I started those final revisions; the flash drive, one of those sliding ones, failed. I rushed it to a repair shop, where I found out it is virtually impossible to fix flash drives with the sliding USB flash drives being notoriously faulty. I left with a crippled husk of a flash drive, my files unsalvageable.

Needless to say, I was devastated and could not pull myself out of the tailspin for several months. I had had good practices in place, but like most people, I grew lazy. Luckily, I had my “version two” revisions and even some of the final revisions, which I had shared with writing friends to see if the changes improved the story or were unneeded. I began to reexamine my habits, looking for ways to prevent any future catastrophic data loss, especially when another failure left me without my laptop — fortunately in this case, the hard-drive was fine and could be converted into an external hard-drive. My search eventually led me to the “cloud” as it were.

In The Cloud

I turned to Google Drive, which replaced Google Docs, as a viable option for storing documents, shortly after it launched in April 2012; prior to that, I had started to email copies to myself. Google Drive creates a folder on one’s desktop allowing you to drag files into it; they are then accessible online. Google Drive also maintains Google Doc characteristics, so you can literally edit anywhere even on mobile devices thanks to the Google Drive app. You can also share documents with friends, setting the level at which they can interact with the document: just reading, only comments or full ability to edit. Document owners can also prevent files from being downloaded to their readers computers. Google Drive comes with 5 GB cloud storage space.

I find Google Drive convenient and easy to use. I also see possibilities for collaborative writing or writing exercises if the opportunity would ever present itself. I also love that I can use the app to start a new document from my phone or anywhere really.

Dropbox is another popular avenue for some writers, though I admit — in my limited experience with it — I’m not as fond of it as I am with Google Drive. For one thing, Dropbox starts users off with only 2.5 GB, which might be enough for some writers while not for others. Dropbox does have DB Text Editor, which also allows for editing on the go. Really both options work perfectly with it coming down to personal taste.

Even after starting to use Google Drive, I continue to make multiple copies on my flash drive, computers and external drives, just in case the unexpected should occur.

Final Thoughts

It has been at least a year now since I lost so much work, but I have recovered — even surpassed where I was. It was painful trying to retrace my footfalls, knowing the words would never be the same, but as I continued, I realized this new final draft far out-shown the old. The pain is no longer there, replaced by contentment and lessons learned.

Keep the writing spirit alive all yearlong

Generic-73x73I was crazy, insane, off my rocker — just a little bit more than now — going into 2010, even more so at the end of 2010. I was riding high after my first NaNoWriMo win, and I had discovered there were other NaNoWriMo-esque events. My thoughts upon the discover: I want to participate in them all!

I did not participate in JanNoWriMo, during January, that year; it was just too close to November, and I needed to recover. However, I did explore NaNoEdMo in March and JulNoWriMo in July. I used NaNoEdMo as a chance to work on “Passage” and its sequel and my NaNoWriMo project, “Order.” From there, I participated in JulNoWriMo in July writing “Parting,” the third book in the series. NaNoWriMo came around again, and I wrote “Desecration,” the fourth book in the series.

With NaNoWriMo’s completion in 2010, grander ideas took root: 2011 would be the year I participated in NaNoEdMo, Wriye, SciFiWriMo, JulNoWriMo, either AugNoWriMo or SeptNoWriMo, GothNoWriMo and finally NaNoWriMo. Those plans came to naught as my life took an unexpected turn for the better: I got my job as a staff writer, which meant crazy deadlines, learning a new company and no time to participate in such events. I did participate in NaNoWriMo, jumping genres from fantasy to SciFi and not reaching the 50,000 goal.

Now, it has been a year since I have participated in a WriMo event. I feel surer on my feet at work, and “Passage” is pretty much done, opening the way for me to look at this as the year I can try my hand again, but rather than plow ahead making unrealistic dreams of grandeur, I plan to strategically pick my options. NaNoEdMo will be used to edit and rewrite “Order,” SciFiWriMo to finish my SciFi novel, JulNoWriMo to finish the project it started (“Parting”), SeptNoWriMo or AugNoWriMo to possibly finish “Desecration.” NaNoWriMo would then stand for me to start Book V or a new project.

The WriMos will provide deadlines and incentives I need to tie up loose-ends. I will also participate in NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month; I have yet to determine which month I will choose for this one yet.

For those interested in trying different monthly WriMo events, here is a list:

  • JaNoWriMo: (January) Write either 50K or your own word-count
  • Choose-Your-Own-Novel Month: (January) Write a piece of interactive fiction (ex. choose your own adventure type of book) and finish it. There is no set word count required.
  • FAWM: February Album Writing Month, write 14 original songs in a month.
  • NaNoEdMo: (March) Commit to 50 hours novel editing.
  • April Fool’s: (April) Set a word-count goal and fulfill it by the end of the month.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo: (April or July) A camp-themed version of NaNoWriMo where you write a 50K word work of original fiction.
  • JunNoWriMo: (June) Pick a word-count and attempt to reach it by the end of the month.
  • JulNoWriMo: (July) Write 50K words by the end of the month.
  • AugNoWriMo: (August) Write a novel in one month.
  • SeptNoWriMo: (September) Set a word-count and write, edit, or edit and write throughout the month.
  • GothNoWriMo: (October) Write a Gothic novel.
  • SciFiWriMo: (October) Science Fiction Writing Month, chose a target word-count and reach it in a month, writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy.
  • NaNoWriMo: (November) The main event, write a 50K novel during the month of November along with numerous writers around the world.
  • NaPlWriMo: (November) National Play-writing Month, write a play in a month.
  • The Plot Whisperer: (December) Plot Writing Month, refine the plot arc of a first draft.

Year-long/pick-your-month-and-do-it WriMo events:

  • NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month, post everyday for a month.
  • 750 Words: Write 750 words a day monthly with each month being the start of a clean sheet.
  • Wriye: Set a word-count goal for the year and work towards it between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.

Each month, I will do a feature on each of these writing events and others that I might hear about as they roll around, in addition to relaying my personal experiences as I tackle some of them.

Have plans on tackling any of the above? Let me know!

Hey, you have to do something while waiting for NaNoWriMo to come around!

Obligatory 2013 Writing Goals List

Pencils ready? Check!

It’s finally here 2013 — well, finally might not be the right choice of words since it seemed to fly here! Unlike 2012, I am very optimistic about reaching several writing goals, including the finished revisions to my novel “Passage,” which I hope to start submitting to agents by February or March. But about what after “Passage” is metaphorically off my desk? Oh, there are tons of projects on my desk to occupy me, more than I could ever finish in 2013. So instead, here are my top five projects I want to work on in 2013 if not finish:

  1. Turn focus to started Sci-Fi project
  2. Start revising “Order,” the sequel to “Passage,” which will involve extensive rewrites
  3. Maintain WordPress account (already have some great writing plans for this)
  4. Write several short stories with intent to submit to magazines
  5. Revise and finish “Desecration,” book three of the same series as “Passage”

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 Amazon.com 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 emotion 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 http://www.facade.com/tarot, 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.

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