Last time it was my turn to share a post, I talked about how to use the story to help figure itself out, especially when dealing with elusive endings. This time, I want to focus on one tool that I find particularly useful for plot problems: Story Readings.
I’ve been reading the Tarot for two decades now. Over that time, though I don’t read for profit*, I’ve developed my skills and I tend to be pretty accurate with my results. The way I see it, a reading can be a good way to check in on things from time to time, especially because of the approach I take.
Then about a decade ago, I was struggling with a plot problem in one of my writing projects. And it occurred to me: What if I tried to do a reading for my story?
Then I thought: Why the hell not? (‘cuz I’m a big believer in science dictating that I must try.)
Turns out, the results were surprisingly helpful.
See, the way I approach this, the Tarot is an excellent collection of archetypes and phenomena. These 72 images are excellent trigger points to get a person thinking about things, and are helpful for tapping into the subconscious. In other words, the things that you unconsciously already knew or suspected. In our busy lives, especially in this day and age, it can get too easy to focus just on what’s immediately in front of us. These readings are an excellent way to have a conversation with yourself. For writers, that can be a useful tool, and a big help with plotting.
So, if you’re interested in trying this, here’s one way it can let you take a deeper look at the things you didn’t know you already knew. The following 11-card spread is based on one given to me nearly two decades ago, and it’s the layout I use when I’m doing readings. Since recreating it, I’ve tried to locate the original author, but haven’t been able to, so I’ve just put their initials for now. Here’s how I use it for writing.
Cards 1 & 2: The two sides of the situation
Sometimes they support each other, sometimes they conflict.
For the story: These can be two major issues in the plots/subplots, or they can be conflicting problems either internally within the character, or externally in their world.
Card 3: What crosses you – the challenge to overcome
This card does not support you at all! It’s in the way.
What’s getting in the character’s way? Even if it’s a good thing, it’s a problem.
Card 4: The crown – what is needed (to help with the challenge)
What does the character need to help them move forward?
Card 5: The foundation – what it is based upon (work already done to create the current situation)
What has helped bring the character to this point in their story?
Card 6: The immediate past (2-3 months)
What’s been affecting the plot or character of late?
Card 7: The immediate future (2-3 months)
Where are things headed, or what’s coming up for this character in the near future? What will they have to face?
Card 8: The part of yourself that relates to the situation
Court cards are always you!
This is the part of the main character that relates to the situation.
Card 9: The outside influences
(Court cards are always someone else; in relationships, what the other is thinking, feeling, doing.
Card 10: Your hopes and fears
How does the character hope for bad things, and fear good things?
Card 11: The outcome as things are progressing at this moment (Can always be changed)
What will happen if the character doesn’t make any changes? What must be done?
– If Card 11 is not a Major Arcana (i.e., one of the named cards), you may look through the next five cards on the top of the deck and pull out any Major Arcana to be read as additional messages from Spirit**.
– If the reading involves a relationship question and you ask “is there another person involved?”, then court cards in positions 9 or 3 indicate infidelity. Or that other person is clinging to a past relationship. Or someone is interfering with the relationship.
– If the Star card is in the cross position (3): You’re not listening to Spirit, or you don’t like what you hear.
* Over the past few years, for charity, I’ve offered story readings for other writers, who enjoy this fresh approach.
** Depending on your beliefs: Spirit, or your spiritual beliefs, or you unconscious self (For me, it’s the lattermost, but to each their own).