In the past decade, the tarot has been an incredibly valuable tool in inspiring my writing. In fact, the cards appeared to me just before penning one of my earliest novels, The Scars We Choose, and I have studied and employed them from a storyteller’s lens ever since.
Throughout my experience working with the tarot, I’ve uncovered a baker’s dozen of ways the cards been useful with storytelling, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.
I use the tarot every morning for self-reflection, and in doing so, I’ve found that my intuition is sharper than ever, and story ideas come to me more fluidly. My favorite spread for this purpose is a three-card layout in which the first card represents a “theme” for my day ahead, the second (middle) card indicates a potential “obstacle” (or opportunity, depending on my mood), and the third card represents a “blessing” to which I might look forward. As an example, below are three cards I pulled one morning while writing my most recent book, along with the story I sensed from them.
2. One-Card Daily Inspiration
If you’re new to using tarot cards, and/or you don’t have a lot of time as your day is getting started, you might simply draw a single card to inspire your day. Depending on your intention, this card could be used to gain insight, writing inspiration, or to uncover the energy around the day, task, or specific project.
3. Plot Development
The tarot’s “big picture” cards—the Major Arcana—follow along The Fool’s Journey, which easily corresponds with one of the most popular fiction story plots: the hero’s* journey. As such, the tarot is an effective tool for inspiring plot lines. The cards can serve as anchors or avatars to represent characters, ideas, themes, settings, and beyond. To demonstrate this method, here’s a helpful 7-card story arc spread you can use while plotting your own hero’s journey.
*Main character. This word is not meant to indicate a specific gender.
4. Plot Hole-Filling
But what happens when a plot hole perforates your precisely plotted path? Tarot cards can be used in the same fashion to fill it. Let’s use the above spread as a tool. By pulling cards from your deck that resonate with your storyline, you can place them where they fit on the spread, leaving the space that’s stumping you empty. Next, shuffle the remaining cards in your deck and randomly turn them over—one at a time—onto that space. Repeat until one of the illustrations sparks an idea on how to fill that hole.
5. Character Creation
Because the figures in the tarot—especially the Minor Arcana’s Court cards—make magnificent muses, the cards present the perfect tool for discovering a story’s cast of characters. In my shop, The Intuitive Storyteller Hub, you can find a series of workbooks that instruct all things character development, including the Courts of Personality Character Development Resource. My favorite method for using the cards to create characters, however, is my 78-question character interview, which I’ve included as part of my Character Profile Toolkit.
If you are a fiction writer, you will most likely recognize the statement “Show your story, don’t tell it.” Although this advice can feel redundant, it’s important. While writing, showing your story—which includes using descriptive language, metaphor, and dialogue—offers the reader a more immersive experience, rather than simply telling the story and expecting them to take your word at face value. As such, tarot card illustrations can help inspire sensory details within your story. Try it! Shuffle your deck and pull a single card. What do you see unfolding in the scene? What might that scene sound like? Is there anything happening in the card that evokes a specific smell, feeling, or taste? With this method, the cards can help inspire showing what that story might look and feel like for the reader. In the following example, I’ve pulled a single card, sensing a story from it.
Your tarot cards can serve as anchors for freewriting. After all, the cards are individual invitations for conjuring instinctive responses to their illustrations. Sometimes, the stress and anxiety of not knowing what to write can prevent us from getting started in the first place. As such, you can use the cards to help you invoke ideas. Draw a tarot card and start writing. What flows onto the page doesn’t have to make sense; eventually something will come through that will spark a creative flame.
If you are not already several stacks into a collection of notebooks and journals, journaling is a practice that can help writers in a myriad of ways, and pairing the tarot with this practice can amplify both the method and the outcome. In fact, one of the most effective ways to become acquainted with the tarot is by making the cards a part of your daily writing routine, exploring the images, focusing on the ideas that most immediately and intuitively stand out, asking questions, and then journaling your experiences. As such, journaling with the tarot can have a number of benefits to one’s writing craft. It can help strengthen vocabulary, increase persistency, power through writer’s block, and a regular routine can also supercharge both intuition and imagination.
9. Memoir Writing
The tarot works in the very same way as a diary or journal; you can hold the cards in your hands, displaying them at your writing workspace for help with conjuring memories, and you can also use them to help structure your memoir. Whether writing a chronological, thematic, or three-act memoir, the cards can help inspire memories that can become major themes and/or scenes in your story.
10. Working Through Writer's Block
Writer’s block is no secret—it’s one of a writer’s most notorious enemies. Whether you’ve floundered on getting started with a project, wrestled with what two characters should say during a dialogue-heavy scene, grappled with what to write in an article or essay, or even struggled with what to say in a social media post, you’ve more than likely been stung by writer’s block.
Tarot spreads can help you climb out of your creative slumps. I know from experience because I often use the cards for sparking inspiration to making decisions around what to write next, or which direction to take a project. One of my favorite spreads for shuffling through writer’s block is a simple 3-card Start, Stop, Continue spread.
Card 1: What do I need to START doing in order to get over this block?
Card 2: What do I need to STOP doing in order to remove this block?
Card 3: What do I need to CONTINUE doing in order to move forward?
11. Writing Dialogue
Writing dialogue can be tricky, and my initial advice is to read the work of others specifically so you can see—both from the lens of a writer and a reader—how the interchanges are crafted. Next, practice. Imagine two characters engaging in a conversation and write what they’re saying. This can help you get the hang of all the mechanics involved. And, of course, you can use your tarot deck for inspiration. I like to imagine the Court cards are my story’s characters, arranging them in a way that they look like they are in conversation with one another. Having this visual aid helps me decide what my characters might say to one another in a particular scene.
As you work with your tarot cards, keep in mind that the figures in the images can represent any gender, race, ethnicity, or age you wish. The tarot is subjective, and the images are relative to your own intuitive and creative ideas.
12. Story Starters
Every tarot card has the capacity for infinite stories, and when placed adjacent to others, the abundance of ideas multiplies exponentially. As such, the tarot can be used as story starters, an effective way to practice writing, joggle writer’s block, explore scenes, and map out plot lines. Here’s an example of a story starter adapted from the Ace of Wands.
13. Self-Discovery: Your Tarot Code
Your “Tarot Code,” as I like to refer to them, is a collection of cards that have been assigned to you from birth, annually, monthly, and even daily, if you so choose to honor a consistent routine. Self-discovery practices are often popular among writers like you and me. From journaling to blogging, fiction writing to poetry, many writers find connection and creative inspiration through reflection and rumination. The cards you will uncover in your tarot code can provide additional points of reference to your personal, creative, and even spiritual journey. These cards include:
Your Life Path Number and Soul Card
Your Birth Year Card
Your Life Path Number and Soul Card
Your Age Card
Your Year Card
Your Zodiac Cards
With a little research, you can learn how to uncover your Life Path number and cards associated with your Tarot Code. However, if you stay tuned, my next post will include all the details you need to discover who YOU are in the cards.
What did you think about this list? Were there any strategies that resonated with you? Send me an email or message me with your discoveries! I would love to know how this list has worked for your own practice.
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.
When she’s not writing fiction, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.