Brainstorming Characters and Figuring Out Their Appearance

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In Brainstorming Characters with Tarot + The 5 W's - we talked about using the 5 W's method to generate ideas from a tarot card. In this post, you will find out more about the way in which you can use tarot cards to construct a character's physical appearance. We will also take a closer look at The Star card and its symbolic implications.


The Star is a very gentle and soothing card representing rest, hope, and healing. It is about coming clean, and releasing the toxic energies, behaviours, attitudes and thought patterns inside of you. It is a period of calm that allows you to rejuvenate, get rid of any negative vibes that are holding you back, and prepare for a brighter future. The Star is also associated with the element of water. In tarot, Water is usually associated with emotions, intuition and the subconscious.

Exercise 1.1: Looking at The Star card (or any other Major Arcana card of your choosing) and its symbolic landscape, why do you think it is a card that represents healing and emotional release? Write a short paragraph about how the Star card is able to convey its symbolic meaning.

Exercise 1.2: Consider the images within the card (such as the stars in the sky, the maiden, the nakedness, the water, etc) as well as the universality of their symbolic meanings and their symbolic potential--how can these symbolic qualities be applied to a character? For example, the nakedness can be symbolic of one's innocence and purity. As a result, your character can be someone childlike, or someone inexperienced in the more complicated ways of the world.

Using tarot to construct a character’s physical appearance

One way to construct a character’s physical appearance based on a tarot card is to take the visual cues presented on a tarot card as they are. For example, if you were to describe the maiden in the Star card in purely physical terms, you would say things like: 

  • She is female, Caucasian, likely in her 30’s, maybe younger

  • She has blond hair that is loose and wavy

  • She is voluptuous, fit, and well-proportioned

  • She has a soft, dreamy look on her face

You can then use these visual cues and translate them onto your character. This is a good place to start if you have absolutely no idea what your character should look like. However, I don’t personally recommend this method because it can be very limiting. Tarot cards, as diverse as they are with symbolism and figurative representations, they’re not very helpful when they are taken to a literal level. For one, tarot depicts a very limited demographic. It is meant to capture the spectrum of human experiences through universal archetypes and symbols, not physical appearances. You will soon find that it offers you only a tiny chunk of the spectrum when it comes to things like age group, race and gender. Examining tarot cards on a literal and purely visual level can also hinder the potential of developing in-depth, interesting and dynamic characters. In short, it seriously caps the symbolic potential of each card.

Of course, this can be compensated by being flexible with your interpretations. You can also try selecting a deck that reflects your story’s specific needs. By selecting a deck that is uniquely themed and coincides with your story’s environment and demographic, the themes and tropes of your story’s genre is more easily accessible. For example, if you are writing a story that involves extra-terrestrial creatures, you can consider getting the UFO Tarot. If you are writing a story about homosexuality, gender identity and activism, then you might consider the Gay Tarot. If you are writing a detective or mystery novel, you may look into the Sherlock Holmes Tarot to add that extra tarot “kick”.

To make the best use of a tarot card and its symbolic potential, try capturing the "vibe" of that specific card and translate it to the construction of your characters.

The best thing about this approach is that the character you create will have a presence, and not just an appearance. If you look at the Star card, the "vibe" of The Star is very peaceful, serene and relaxing. There is also a sense of fluidity and subtlety. How can this "vibe" be achieved through physical appearance? 

  • Peaceful: A gentle smile, relaxed shoulders, relaxed body language

  • Serene: Loose, nature-patterned clothing, simplistic fashion

  • Relaxing: Unintrusive features; soft, pristine eyes; carefree

  • Fluidity: Voluminous, wavy hair; gauze dresses

  • Subtlety: Wears soft colours such as white, apricot, baby blue, pastel colours

Exercise 2.1: Using the Star card or any other Major Arcana card of your choosing, write down five adjectives that you think describe the vibe of the card. And then, using those adjectives, do a free-association exercise like above. Write down what inspires an impression of those adjectives--for example, write down what physical features or dress code will inspire a "peaceful" look.

Exercise 2.2: Since physical appearance is an extension of your character's personality, think about what kind of traits, hobbies or career your character will have to inspire this look. For example, someone who embodies the vibe of The Star may be a massage therapist, who helps people relax and unleash the stressful tension in their body. He or she may also be into activities such as meditation, spa, tai-chi and new age music. Their favourite places might be a yoga studio or a quiet beach.

Exercise 2.3: While The Star card is inevitably more feminine, what are some of the "Star qualities" you can use to construct a male character? For example, you may be thinking of a male character who is in touch with his emotions and expresses his emotions freely, in a non-egotistical and non-threatening kind of way. He may be someone who is carefree and who courses through life with the fluidity of water. He may be someone who is very compassionate towards others, and someone who is very spiritual when it comes to life's obstacles. If the card you have chosen is a particularly feminine or masculine card, think about how these feminine and masculine qualities can apply to the opposite gender.