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.
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...
Shandra was expelled for hacking into her high school's grade system just to prove she could. She caught the attention of a man who told her they needed her abilities, and would help her continue her education.
She stands at the base of the staircase leading to her first briefing, unsure of what this new chapter in her life will bring. The weasel at her feet is unfamiliar, but not threatening. She makes the climb without fear.