Writing: Brainstorming Characters via the Tarot

We writers go through great lengths to get ideas, because we know how hard it can be. Sometimes these can be physical, like cards. Here, I’m thinking tarot cards. This is the method I used over November when I had to come up with characters with differentiated personalities, quick.

If you’re uber-superstitious about the tarot, skip this article. For the rest of you, we’re going to talk about using a small part of the Tarot for character creation. This is a simple exercise, one I used in November for brainstorming characters.

My deck of choice for the purposes of generating fiction is the Quest Tarot.

The Tarot is split up into the following useful sections:

  • Trumps: life-changing events, meetings, and influences, the “set pieces” of life;
  • Minors: day-to-day events, meetings, and influences; and
  • Court Cards: characteristics of people.

We’ll be using the court cards.

Remove the court cards, and look at them while reading their descriptions in the book–it helps to have picked a Tarot deck that comes with a nice hefty book explaining each card in detail, which the Quest Tarot does. Then assign a card to each character.

Here are some extra guides:

The personality of each court card is partly based on its rank and suit.

Each rank (King, Queen, Princess, Page, or whatever is available in your deck) carries different implications of age and force of personality. Note that gender does not necessarily have to match between character and card, nor do physical characteristics have to match.

Each suit (Swords, Cups, Pentacles, Wands, or whatever is available in your deck) is like a family, with similar characteristics carrying through its court cards. Families of characters, of course, can still spread across multiple suits.

Note that in many decks, cards have two readings: an upright, usually positive reading, and a reversed, somewhat opposite reading. You can pick and choose, using both positive and negative characteristics as a basis for a well-rounded character.

After you’ve picked out the card, then do some free-writing about your character, stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, turning off your inner editor completely.

That should help with the character ideas.