Common Symbols: Stars, ivy, wheat or other grains, a river, fruit, hearts, horns of plenty
Examples in Plot: A strong character in touch with their emotions – but not necessarily a female! – who helps the main character to heal in one way or another, and makes sure their basic needs are met while on their journey. (Demeter, the mother of Persephone, is the original example of the mothering healer. Other famous Empresses include Star Trek: Voyager’s C aptain Janeway, and Harry Potter’s Molly Weasley. Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games even fills this role to some extent – Empresses come in all shapes and sizes!)
Character Archetypes: The Mother, The Nurse, “Team Mom”.
Upside-Down: Someone whose best intentions hurt more than they heal, a smothering person.
Concepts to Consider...
For the character: Generosity can be a powerful tool in fiction. Don’t confuse it with sacrifice (having your character give away something they need or treasure, in order to grow): in the realm of the Empress, generosity means giving to those in need of what you have. An Empress figure will give your characters something they need to complete a task at hand: it’s usually something physical, a tool or resource, rather than wisdom or advice, which are the realm of the High Priestess.
For the author: Within your community, do you have any skills which could help fellow authors? Perhaps you have experience with a part of the process which someone needs help with. Even if all you feel confident offering is your encouragement, share it: it will undoubtedly be appreciated.
Healing or Care
For the character: What author doesn’t enjoy putting their characters through peril? Your protagonist is going to hit rock bottom at some point before they get back up and muddle through … make sure they don’t have to do it alone. Their healer does not necessarily need to be present: perhaps they taught skills or gave supplies earlier, which can be used to survive. Scenes which detail one person c aring for another can be some of the most poignant, powerful scenes, too: if you have a chance to pop one into your story, let it ring true for your readers.
For the author: It may seem like common sense, but make sure that in between all of that Author Fuel (aka caffeine and snacks), you’re making conscious choices to take care of yourself: rest, stretching, water, healthy meals. Your brain won’t work for you nearly as well in a tired body!
For the character: When the Empress talks about creativity, she’s thinking more in the realm of what I grew up calling “Yankee Ingenuity”: the ability to solve a problem or fill a need in ways that aren’t necessarily commonplace. If this card appears when you’re trying to figure out where to take a scene, it means your character’s solution is going to be a unique one.
For the author: Yes, creativity is our bread and butter… but sometimes things just don’t want to come out on the page the way we think they should. Sometimes, considering a scene or aspect of the plot from a different angle will make all the difference, and transform a scene from something boring to one the reader will remember long after they’ve closed a book.
Children and Family
For the character: What is your main character’s relationship with their family? If they’re adults, do they still visit, or are they estranged? Do they strike a middle ground, only showing up for major holidays as a “command performance”? Perhaps they have no family, or consider their friends their true support group. Would they do well as a parent? Investigating their thoughts on family can tell you a lot more about them.
For the author: I hear many authors say that their characters and/or projects are like their children. Take a moment to think about your relationship with your current work. Are you caring for it properly? Smothering it? Playing favorites among your fictional children? Try and figure out what needs need filling in your work. A little trite? Maybe, sure … but it’s likely to make your story stronger.
Union or Harmony
For the character: In a pinch, the Empress figure in your novel can be a very effective mediator… and if you give them enough opportunity, they’ll likely have plenty of relationship advice, too: whether your characters want it or not! An Empress is good at reading people’s emotions, and suggesting practical ways to accept and deal with them.
For the author: Look for things which are out of balance over the course of your story: two people or places at odds, perhaps. Is there a way you can bring them together by the end? Even subtle resolutions can have a big impact on the overall tone of your work.
For the character: Let’s take a look at the dark side of the Empress, for a moment. We all know that our characters want to protect what’s important to them. But one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to try to protect something too much. If a character’s too caught up in protecting an object, they may miss some important detail or event. If they want to protect a person too much … well, they might end up making them angry or trapped. Either way, there are consequences. See if there’s a way to make this work for you.
For the author: Back up your work! Keep copies in several formats. The Empress urges us to be practical with our resources so that we can keep what we love safe, after all.
For the character: They want it! They need it! They can’t have it … not yet. Whether it’s something large or small, see how your characters handle having to wait … or make them make someone else wait, and see what happens.
For the author: Patience with your work and with yourself are two of the best tools you can have. If you’re not sure what to do, or you think something isn’t working (either on the page, or in the outside world of promotion , what I call “Authoring”) … just give it time! Either you’ll think of something, or someone will help.
Thanks for dropping by for this week's installment of the Author's Oracle! Please come back in two weeks, when I will introduce you to The Emperor!
Hi, all ... I know you were expecting The Empress, my next entry in The Author's Oracle: fret not, she's still coming soon. I have been doing some thinking, though, and come to the realization that drawing, researching, and writing one blog post in the course of a week, on top of writing and all else, is a tall order for myself. I will be scaling back the Oracle posts: either to a bi-weekly or monthly basis, depending on how things go.
There is also the fact that Camp NaNoWriMo is fast approaching! I have joined a lovely group of fellow writers: our intrepid Cabin Leader Mollie Wallace, Claire Huston, Matt Orlando, Faith Rivens, Jette Harris, Brittany Pettegrow, Emma Clare, Sarina Langer, and my dear friend Krista Viar. We will be banding together to cheer one another on and help each other work through when we get stuck... and I couldn't ask for a better group of cabinmates! If you can find the time, please check them all out: they've linked their blogs and sites in their profiles. (And of course, you can track my Camp progress on my profile, here!)
Until next week,
The High Priestess holds sway over intuition. Where the Magician's knowledge pertains to things without, the High Priestess teaches the Fool how to look within for the answers they seek.
She is a peaceful observer, choosing to take time to contemplate her emotional and intellectual stake in a situation before making any important decisions... but her power and independence are not to be underestimated.
The High Priestess is very closely linked to the element of water, since it, too, can be deep and full of mystery or secrets.
Hero's Journey Aspect: The Mentor, but in a more self-discovering sense.
Common Symbols: Water, a scroll or book, pomegranates, a veil, trefoils or triple circles, an equal-armed cross, pillars, a crescent moon, serpents, night
Examples In Plot: A priest, wise woman, psychic... anyone whose role is to help the character examine their own thoughts more closely.
Character Archetypes: Quiet, reserved types who hold unexpected depths of wisdom. The Priestess can be any character who helps another access their internal compass. They do not have to be a woman ... simply someone very in touch with their inner self. (My favorite pop culture examples are Yoda, and The Oracle from The Matrix Trilogy.)
Upside-Down: Someone who is ignoring or unaware of their own thoughts and feelings, out of touch with their intuition. They cannot see the forest for the trees. Alternatively, they could be over-emotional.
Concepts To Consider...
For the character: Do they listen to their intuition? Is it strong or weak? Perhaps there is something they should know, but are choosing to turn a blind eye to.
For the author: If you're not sure where to take a scene, sometimes it's best to just start letting the words come to you. If you don't feel comfortable with that, pull another card and see what it has to say to you ... without consulting the Author's Oracle or another tarot book. Take your ideas from the image itself.
Mysteries or Secrets
For the character: Add something to a scene or character that the reader can see, but the character cannot. Or, give the main character something they need to hide from the rest. How long can they keep their secret hidden?
For the author: Your story doesn't have to be a traditional mystery to hold questions. Think about what questions you want your readers to be asking themselves ... then decide when and how they would best be answered.
For the character: The traditionally "feminine" aspects are tied strongly to emotion and nurturing. Is the central character of the scene an emotional one, or is it someone else? Do they need to be nurtured? Or are they overly emotional, and reacting too strongly to a situation?
For the author: Consider how they affect the scene you're writing. If you can make your reader feel, you've already won half the battle.
For the character: Are they looking closely at the matter at hand, or blindly plowing through? If they overlook a detail that could come back to bite them in a later scene, it makes a great plot device if used to good effect.
For the author: Every author is told "show, don't tell" ... but the trick is to only show the reader as much as the central character in a scene would notice. Try to look at the scene through your character's eyes ... a plumber who comes to do a job would notice the dripping faucet in the sink, not necessarily the color of the curtains.
For the character: It could be argued that this is the crux of just about any story: the main character has to accept, discover, or even change some part of themselves in order to make things turn out. Take a good hard look at them and try to figure out what that is. What other aspects may they have had to face prior to your story? Are there any that they aren't aware of yet?
For the author: Make a list of what you feel your writing strengths are (one of mine is characterization). Then, try to pinpoint your weaknesses. If you're having trouble with a scene, one of your weaknesses may be to blame. I suggest reading something by an author who excels at that weakness, and trying to see how they use their words to make it work. By all means, don't plagiarize them, but see if you can apply a similar technique to your own writing. Laurell K. Hamilton builds tension by keeping many of her sentences short, for example.
For the character: Give them a stake which can be rewarded by waiting... this works particularly well in a scene if they really, really don't want to, but have to.
For the author: Let what you're working on sit for a while. Consider it from as many angles as possible. Eventually, what you need to move forward will come to the surface.
For the character: There are many tasks that can be mastered by studying them beforehand, but some which are only learned through experience. Give them one of these sort of tasks, and see if they fall or fly!
For the author: This is one of the most important lessons I've learned: for every single thing about the writing process which makes you want to tear your hair (or pages out of your notebook), there is someone out there in the writing community who has found a way to own it and make it better. Reach out to your peers and see what they have to say! If you haven't created an author network yet, drop me a line ... I'll introduce you to mine!
Thanks for dropping by for this week's installment of the Author's Oracle! Please come back next week, when we'll be taking a look at The Empress!
Hero’s Journey Aspect: The Mentor
Common Symbols: A wand, roses, an open book, the four elements (Earth/Air/Water/Fire), the connection of earth and sky, and the lemniscate (infinity symbol), the planet Mercury.
Examples in Plot: The main character sets out on their journey and assists a traveler on the road … who ends up giving them a piece of wisdom or some necessary tool as thanks. Or perhaps they are brought to an authority figure who points them in the right direction toward their goal.
Character Archetypes: The Mentor, The Master, The Messenger.
Upside-Down: Overconfidence, lack of resources, a person with their head in the clouds.
Concepts To Consider:
For the character: How hard is your character willing to fight to get what they want? Are they actually able to fight as hard as they want to? Or is something affecting their willpower?
For the author: Sometimes, writing is simply about sitting down and making the words come out, whether they’re good or not. Some days, it’s far harder than others. This is your sign to put your pen to the page and knuckle down!
For the character: What does your character need to be paying attention to, right now? Or, should they be focusing on something else so that they miss something important that will cost them, later?
For the author: Make certain your scene is focusing on the right event or character. It may be tempting to show your reader how things look from someone else’s point of view, but if the main character is there for a reason, shouldn’t they be holding the camera, so to speak?
Order In Chaos:
For the character: What does your character do to settle themselves when life gets crazy? Maybe there’s a clue they can find which will help them make sense of what’s happening in the scene. Or perhaps there’s another character who is able to help them calm down.
For the author: Okay, if you’re a plotter, this one’s easy: go to your outline! Give it a good look… see if something might need to be rearranged. If you’re the opposite, what some call a “pantser”… maybe this is your sign to try outlining, even if it’s just for this one scene. Sometimes putting your questions on paper is all it takes to make the answers start to come to you.
For the character: They’ve got to have something to prove, right? How do they need to prove it? Break it down … either it’s one small thing for the scene, or something that arcs through the entire plot. For example: In a scene. Buster Heywood can prove he knows his neighborhood is safe to walk in, but for the plot, he must stand up for himself no matter where he is.
For the author: Make a formal commitment to your writing, to yourself, if you haven’t already. Put it in a notebook, pin it to the wall, do whatever you like with it … but before anyone else can call you an author, you have to do it, yourself. There’s more power in it than you might realize.
Mastery of Resources:
For the character: Is there a skill the character knows that would come in handy in this scene? Or maybe they don’t have everything they meant to bring? Maybe the Magician is a sign that your character needs to consider the tools they have at hand, and see if any are missing or not good enough.
For the author: Stuck on a scene? Time for research! Or, if you’ve already researched and you’re stumped, try reaching out to someone else who might have the information you need.
Power or Energy:
For the character: What makes your character feel powerful or energized? Give them a taste: approval from a colleague, their favorite kind of pie, a morning jog, the satisfaction of finishing a crossword in ink...
For the author: I’ve a feeling I should slip a joke about caffeine or the writing snack of your choice, here … but really, this card may be asking you to take stock of your energy. How do you feel, right now? Are you refreshed? Tired? Maybe you need to sit with yourself a moment and give yourself a pep talk. Give yourself permission to be tired: the words will come out, anyway, and you can plump them up a bit more when you’re feeling rested.
For the character: Let something in this scene boost your main character’s confidence ... or give them an opportunity to let themselves shine. Or perhaps there’s a side character who’s been biding their time, and now it’s their chance to prove why they’re important to the story. No matter who gets the spotlight for this scene, they know they deserve it!
For the author: Every author reaches a point in their process where they are convinced that what they are working on is The Worst Thing In The World, and that no one will ever want to read it. Consider the Magician your cheerleader, and a sign to have confidence in yourself and in your work.
Making The Unseen Real:
For the character: Is there something in this scene that the reader should see that you aren’t showing? Or, maybe, there’s an influence to the plot which needs to be revealed. Those of you writing fantasy... maybe this scene needs a little magic, or maybe it’s at work in some subtle way that your reader will see, but your character may not, just yet.
For the author: This is what we do, isn’t it? You and I: we are the Magicians of our stories. We have power beyond even our comprehension, from the character’s point of view. We can give them everything they need, or take it away. Take a moment and bask in that fact...
Thank you for joining me! Please come back next Thursday, when I'll introduce you to the High Priestess!
Welcome back Between the Lines! This week marks the start of The Author’s Oracle: a series which will take over a year to complete. With the exception of announcements for In The Cards, or posts requested by fellow authors, I will be adding an entry every week.
The Author’s Oracle is meant to be a look through the tarot designed specifically for fiction writers. Several decks of inspirational cards have been made to help burn through writer’s block or give jumping-off points … I own one, myself, and use it from time to time. But what many of my fellow wordsmiths may not understand is that the tarot can serve as a similar tool, and be even more useful and versatile with the right knowledge. After spending over a decade studying and working with tarot cards, I am more than happy to share that knowledge with you all!
Each entry will give a basic overview of the symbolism of each card, a few suggestions for what it could signify, and some questions related to the card for brainstorming and expanding on ideas. In addition to showcasing the quintessential Rider-Waite deck, which is within the public domain, I am also creating my own tarot deck for the town of Aviario, and will be sharing each card as it is created along with the entry. I hope you will join me on this journey through symbolism, literary archetypes, and the deep, layered potential of human creativity.
(A note for those familiar with tarot: most of my research is rooted in the Rider-Waite family of tarot decks, though occasionally I will incorporate concepts from the Thoth or other symbolic systems.)
We begin our journey where all journeys begin: at the first card of the Major Arcana.
The Fool does not imply stupidity, but rather something new. This card almost always depicts the beginning of a journey: the subject setting out into the unknown. They do so willingly, sometimes even overzealously enthusiastic about how little they know of their future. And what author would dare not recognize the importance of the Shakespearean Fool: that figure which tells the truth and cloaks it in humor to reduce its sting?
Hero’s Journey Aspect: The Call To Action
Common Symbols: Traveler, sun, mountains, knapsack, road, cliff, a companion animal
Examples in Plot: Moving to a new town, taking up a new hobby, making a life-changing decision
Character Archetypes: The Innocent, The Trickster, The Voice of Truth, The Buffoon, or The Rash Decision-Maker. Maybe they’re side characters, or maybe the scene highlights one of these qualities as they pertain to its central character.
Reversed Meaning: Something old and tired, overworn. Stagnation.
Concepts To Consider:
For the character: a skill or opportunity which can be explored, or is yet to be discovered.
For the author: There may be something in this scene which could mean more than you expect it to. A tiny throw-away conversation which is meant to be transitional might hold the seeds of a whole sub-plot, or be able to help you fill that plot hole you’ve been agonizing over.
A Leap Forward:
For the character: They decide to (finally?) take action on something! Of course, it could be a blind leap, or a leap in the wrong direction!
For the author: We all know every word put down on the page that wasn’t there before is progress… but maybe you can take an approach to this scene that you haven’t tried before.
For the character: The scales tip in their favor. (But they don’t have to stay that way!)
For the author: Take this as a good sign. If you’ve been stuck on this part, consider The Fool to be your cheerleader: you can do it! You’ve got this! You’ll find a way through!
For the character: Anything can happen: especially what they don’t expect. Shake their life up! Let them follow fate wherever it chooses to lead.
For the author: Maybe you should drop the outline and let your characters steer for a little while. It’s okay, you can trust them!
The beginner’s mind:
For the character: Have them experience something as though they’re doing it for the first time … or, let them be the reader’s eyes and show what you need them to see for the first time.
For the author: This is the concept of looking at everything with fresh eyes! This can be difficult if you have read and reread this bit – or your outline, or thought about the scene – over and over again. If you cannot bring yourself to the scene with Beginner’s Mind, enlist a friend, and let them show you theirs. A second pair of eyes always helps, as they say!
Discarding Old Habits:
For the character: Perhaps they decide to give something up ... or this scene highlights something about the habit which will lead them to make the decision at a more pivotal moment.
For the author: Are there techniques or phrases you’re using from when you first began to write? Perhaps there’s something you Always Do that you may have evolved past needing, or a part of your method that isn’t gelling with this particular project.
Lack of Experience:
For the character: This is pretty clear-cut. What doesn’t your character know? Or ...
For the author: Look at this scene from the reader’s point of view. Is there anything you could stand to show them that they wouldn’t be able to see? Is the scene in a bakery, but missing the scent of fresh pastries? Maybe it needs the warmth of the ovens, or the sound of chatter in the kitchen. Make sure the experience you’re creating is immersive.
For the character: If they’re doing something foolish, can they see it? Are they doing it anyway? Why? If not, who would be able to observe their behavior and point out their errors? Are there consequences? Foolishness can be a really powerful tool in moving your story forward.
For the author: This is especially crucial in the editing phase ... if you’ve shown someone your work, are you truly listening to their feedback? No matter how much you may love a scene or character, look for the kernel of truth in any criticism. That scene you adore may be slowing your reader down...
Thank you for joining me! Please come back next week for a look at The Magician!
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