The 78 cards of the tarot are not just for fortune-tellers and mystic introspection, they can be a useful tool for stimulating creativity. Writers, such as John Steinbeck and Stephen King, have availed themselves of tarot for many years. Tarot can be tapped into by anyone who is looking for inspiration.
Corrine Kenner in her book, Tarot for Writers, has put together a plan and a guide for incorporating tarot into your writing. She offers processes like journaling, games and writing prompts to get you started.
So does Tarot for Writers provide a useful, long-term approach for writing or is it merely a gimmick?
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Corrine Kenner explains in her preface that she did not invent all the techniques she covers in the book. Instead she says she has taken some old ideas and given them a twist. Tarot for Writers “applies the precepts of tarot reading to standard literary principles and shows how closely they’re linked.” Kenner cites Aristotle’s classical story structure and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, then draws a parallel between them and the structure of the standard tarot deck, which itself, tells the story of the Fool’s Journey through life to ultimate enlightenment.
The first section, How to Use This Book, outlines why the tarot is a valuable implement in the writer’s toolbox. I was particularly taken with the concept that the cards can be used as a ‘machine for writing stories’… being a lazy sort of writer, I like the idea that there could be a device that would help out with the thinking process. Kenner suggests that the book is used almost randomly to generate ideas, just as one would shuffle a tarot deck.
Chapter 1, covers the basics of the tarot deck and is short and succinct. A good thing, as there is a plethora of books available that will teach you how to read the cards, as opposed to using them as a ‘writing machine’. The author deals with the structure of the deck and outlines the meanings of the suits and numbers all within 10 pages. And that’s all you need to know about it. If your interest is piqued, then by all means, get yourself a more in-depth book… but beware, tarot can be addictive when you realise that it does, indeed, mirror real life in infinite detail.
Chapter 2 teaches the rudiments of an intuitive reading.in a step-by-step how-to. Quick and not too demanding. Kenner coves it in a couple of pages.
Chapter 3 goes into a few ‘spreads’, i.e. the process of laying out the cards in a purposeful pattern. These patterns are essential to a tarot reader as the position of a card often determines its meaning. Thankfully, she pays attention to the one-card reading and the two-card spread, which maybe the only two that the writer needs. I think it unlikely that a writer would have to delve into the intricacies of the 12-card Celtic Cross this early into the tarot adventure. Still, the information is there if you need it.
Part 2 of Tarot for Writers dives right into the nitty-gritty to explain, in practical terms how the cards can aid your writing.
Chapter 4 focuses on creating characters. Most modern decks feature people in the illustrations so the tarot is perfect for providing personality fodder. Kenner explains how to build a cast of characters for a piece of fiction and gives an example – drawing one card for each in a list of questions. The chapter goes on to how to use the cards to develop backstory and to build a complete profile.
She suggests using the 22 cards of the major arcana as characters, citing Romeo and Juliet as an example and linking a card to each character in Shakespeare’s drama. Kenner also discusses and lists well-known archetypes, suggesting that the writer use the list as a reference.
Finally, in this chapter, the author offers several exercises in the form of ‘writing practice’ to get you to use her teachings for your writing. These exercises are probably some of the best you will find in a writing guide – with the cards to help, you won’t have any problems in completing them.
Chapter 5 covers astrology and tarot. It’s a short chapter and if you are not interested in astrology, you can bypass it. There are lists of tarot/astrological correspondences and a zodiac spread as writing practice. To my mind, this chapter is in the wrong place, as it is not particularly focused on developing your writing, and is only helpful if you already have a good understanding of astrology. It would have been better to include this as an appendix.
Chapter 6 gets back to the job of using the cards to produce a storyline. Once you have your characters, it’s time to let them loose. Kenner discusses the three-act structure and how to use one card for each act and then sub-divide the act into plot points by drawing further cards. As always, she provides useful examples. The rest of the chapter includes writing practice exercises and includes a Celtic Cross spread as a way of fleshing out a plot. A useful chapter.
Chapter 7 goes into more detail about the Hero/Fool’s Journey and gives an example of a character undergoing all the trials and tribulations as he encounters a selection of randomly drawn major arcana cards. Writing practice encourages you to try the exercise also.
Chapter 8 discusses setting and description and, once again, the 78 cards of the tarot are excellent at providing their own suggestions for your settings. One of the exercises, Corrine Kenner suggests is called “Behind the Scenes”, and it is a similar idea to an article I wrote called “Moving Pictures“. In essence it is a type of meditation where you allow yourself to step inside a card to see what else is in there. It is always a revealing experience. Chapter 8 concludes with ‘description’, ‘style’ and ‘figures of speech’.
Chapter 9 is about beating writer’s block. It is full of useful information but, essentially, if you have a deck of tarot cards next to you, you need never experience writer’s block again. Kenner lists no less than 30 ways in which to use tarot to overcome the challenge of an intimidating blank page. The chapter goes on to list games for writing groups and even using the tarot to inspire the poet.
Chapter 10 is a short one, “The Tarot Card Writing Coach”. In other words, using the deck as your own personal guide. She details how to ask questions of the cards when you get stuck in your work, how to move your work forward, who do you need to contact and even how to determine a publisher’s requirements.
As you develop your writing with the help of the tarot, this largest section of the book will become your favourite resource. Corrine Kenner has produced an in-depth examination of each of the 78 cards covering:
Overview – a brief description of the card and its meaning.
Key symbols – the symbols that appear on the card and their interpretation.
Keywords – the keywords associated with the card.
Astrological associations – which planets and star signs are linked to the card.
Myth and legend – how the card meshes with Greek mythology and how it appears in widely-known legends.
Literary archetypes – links the card back to the list given in Chapter 4.
Writing practice – a brief exercise.
Writing prompts – ideas sparked by the card.
Even if you don’t read any other part of the book, this section will prove to be enormously helpful and you will return to it over and over.
If you are a writer there is a lot to be gleaned from this book. Corrine Kenner shows us the applications for using tarot in writing are endless – character development, plot lines, short stories, novels, decision making, problem solving and even marketing your work can be ‘divined’ from the cards.