There are tons of resources out there for novel plotting, but there is one I’m pretty sure you haven’t tried. If you like archetypes, symbols, using your intuition, and approaching your work from a more esoteric angle, it’s time to bring a little magic into your writing practice. This post has everything you need to know about how to outline a novel with tarot cards.
NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products.
I fully acknowledge that this method of outlining isn’t for everyone. And well. I guess it’s not technically a method.
There are tons of ways that you can tarot cards to outline a novel, and none of them is more correct than another. You could create spreads and read them as a story, or you could simply pull a card every time you find yourself stuck in the writing process, and see where that takes you.
Now, admittedly, this isn’t something that I recommend to everyone. If you’ve never picked up a tarot deck or have no connection to the images on the cards, this might not be helpful for you. I do have some tarot resources though, if you’d like to learn more about the cards so you can try outlining with tarot cards.
So, before you start your outline, check out these posts first:
- Learn Tarot Reading Fast
- The Best Tarot Books for Beginners
- Tarot Card Meanings Journal
- Daily Tarot Pull Pocket Journal
And before we dive into how to outline a novel with tarot cards, I guess I should answer why anyone would do it.
Why You Should Outline a Novel with Tarot Cards
I’m a big fan of trying every method out there, though I know some of you are very much in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp. And that’s cool. But here are some reasons why you might want to try outlining your novel with tarot cards.
001: To change up the routine.
I feel like every time writing gets a little boring, it’s time to shake it up. I know most writers can outline a story on the fly, but maybe you need to slow it down by changing how you do it.
If you find yourself reading books and watching movies and telegraphing every move of the protagonist, I think that’s a sign that the story is too predictable. So if you worry that maybe you write stuff that is as easy to predict as some of the media you’ve accused of being predictable, it’s time to try something new.
And even if you don’t feel like your writing is predictable, maybe it’s time to try this method anyway to switch it up.
I know that it can feel good to get your process on autopilot. But that’s not necessarily always a good thing.
If you want to make sure that every book you write doesn’t have the same pacing or tone, you have to switch up how you do things. And tarot cards may be a very productive wrench to throw into your writing gears.
Sure, it may slow down the process. But who knows what sort of outline you’ll get, and what kind of story that will create.
002: To get some unexpected input.
Sometimes, my brain feels like it’s only got the same three ideas in it at any given time. Sure, I can use these ideas and mold and shape them into new things, but sometimes I just feel bored with what I have.
The cool thing about tarot cards is that there are so many different ways they can be used, and so many different ideas they bring to mind. So, by pulling one, I can effectively change my train of thought about the work I’m doing.
Maybe I’m trying to outline a chapter where the villains have our protagonist held hostage. But I have no idea how to get the protagonist out of there.
So, I can pull a card. Maybe it’s the Three of Pentacles.
That means I have to think about the meaning of that card, and then think about that card in the context of that particular issue.
Maybe that means the protagonist has to work with the items in the room to escape. Maybe it means that the protagonist has to work to get the villains on her side so they let her go.
Maybe it means something completely different.
In any event, it gives me some things to think about in the context of my story, and that can help me get unstuck.
003: To see if it works for you.
This is basically the reason why you should try anything.
Sometimes weird methods work for you. Sometimes they don’t.
You literally will never know if they work for you if you don’t try.
How to Outline a Novel with Tarot Cards
There are several ways you can use tarot cards in your outlining process. Here are a few methods I’ve tried.
001: Use a common structure and pull cards.
You know the Three-Act structure? Maybe Dan Harmon’s story circle? The Save the Cat beat sheet?
Well, you can take all those structures, and just pull cards for the different elements in them.
Here’s what that looks like in action:
So, let’s say you’re devoted to Dan Harmon’s story circle. There are eight elements in that particular method. So, you’d pull eight cards and their meaning would correspond to where they fall in the story circle.
I actually live streamed this a couple of years ago, and you can check out this playlist of replays on my YouTube channel.
002: Use the three lines of the tarot as the hero’s journey.
If you’re not familiar with the tarot, this may not make any sense. So take a look at this picture:
You’ve got The Fool at the top, and then there are three equal horizontal lines. Those are the three lines of the tarot. And each of those lines could be an act in your story.
The major arcana can function as the monomyth, like the hero’s journey. It doesn’t have to, and that’s not the case for everyone, but it can be. And in this case, it may work for your writing.
Each card in the major arcana is like a step on a journey. So, if you view The Fool as the call to action where the protagonist is moving forward into their adventure, each card after The Fool tells a new part of the story.
Now, this is probably a method that really only works for people who are very familiar with the cards. Or, it may work for people who have a deck that has some great images.
Either way, this is definitely worth a try because if you do it right, you’ll end up with 22 scenes outlined, and that’s perfect for a novel.
003: Use the vertical lines of the tarot as acts.
So remember the three lines of the tarot that we talked about? Well, if you look at the layout, there are also vertical lines. And you can take those vertical lines and use them as themes for acts in a story.
I think this method could work if you already know the sort of transition you want your character to have. Then you can easily pick the vertical line that represents that transition to you, and use the three cards as the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
Admittedly, this would be just a jumping off place for your story.
There’s a lot left to the imagination with this one, so if you just want some vibes for each act of your story, and then the freedom to play around in the writing process, this is a good method for you.
004: Pull cards to find out more about the story.
Not everyone needs a super-structured outline, and that’s totally cool. If you’re the type that isn’t looking for a method so much as a way to get to know more about the story before you sit down to write, this is for you.
There’s no one way to do this, so if you want to do a full spread, go for it. If you just want to pull one or two cards, that’s cool too.
Basically, all you need to do is ask a question. Maybe it’s about the setting. Maybe it’s about the plot. Maybe it’s about a relationship between characters. Then, you pull as many cards as you want.
Now, you can use the meanings of the cards, the symbols on the cards, or even the general vibe you get as a way to define these elements of your story.
This is a great way to get some ideas, and might be a way to generate ideas before you do some more in-depth outlining. But I do acknowledge that this is probably not the only pre-writing exercises to do if you want to fast draft. Usually, fast drafting requires more in-depth outlines to keep you going.
(Check out this post for more on fast drafting and how you can write 10,000 words in a day.)
005: Pull cards to meet the characters.
Sometimes, I can come up with a character so fully-formed that I feel like I’ve met them before. Other times, I create placeholders.
And when I create placeholders, I know I need to give them a backstory so they don’t fall flat.
Think of all the things you need to know about a character. Where they’re from, what they do, how they interact with people, their biggest heartbreaks, how they got to where they are now…all those things can be answered with tarot cards.
You will definitely not get a clear answer. For example, if you ask where a character is from and then pull the Page of Cups, you might decide they’re from a small fishing village or something like that. Or maybe they grew up near an aquarium.
Maybe you want to know about their biggest heartbreak, and you pull The Moon. Maybe you decide they had to walk a very different path from those who loved them, and it made them feel isolated.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this.
If you were so inclined, you could do a past-present-future spread or even a Celtic cross spread for them, if that feels right to you.
Basically, you’re the boss. And you get to pull cards however you want.
Books on Writing with the Tarot
If you want to know more about ways you can use the tarot in your writing, check out these books.
I’ve recommended this book in another post, and I love everything about it. It’s a great book for learning more about the cards and how you can use the cards in your creative work. There are even spreads included in the back to help you with your creative life.
I just grabbed this book this past weekend and haven’t dug into it yet. But I’ve seen this author on a ton of writing blogs, and Donahue even has a Story Arcana course you can take. This book has spreads and questions you can use to get to know your story better.
I haven’t read this book, but it’s on my list. This book approaches each card like it’s a story (they are) and encourages you to use the tarot as a map for your novel.
This is another book I haven’t read, but the blurb sounds good. This book is designed to help you flesh out a story premise and take you all the way through publication.
Do You Use the Tarot to Outline Your Novels?
Have you ever used tarot cards to outline your work? Do you use tarot for inspiration? Are there other occult practices you use in your writing? Let me know in the comments down below.