Brainstorming Characters with Tarot + The 5 W's

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Tarot is commonly used as a tool for divination and fortune-telling, but it is also a great tool for storytelling and storycrafting because of the rich symbolism and imagery that are present in each and every tarot card.

In this blog post, you will find a couple of useful tarot exercises that will help you with the creation of your characters. You will also find a series of exercises centred around the Five W's Method. You will also be introduced to the sixteenth card of the major arcana—The Star.

Using tarot to generate ideas about a potential character

There are many ways to engage a tarot card. When constructing a character, try using the five W’s (who, what, when, where and why) to note down some of your basic observations of the card.

The Five W’s Method asks many questions and allows you to extract a great deal of information and ideas without first diving too deep into the sea of symbolism. This is a great method to use if you are actively brainstorming or free writing; it generates flow and fluid engagement. It also allows you to fully utilize the image of the card without any prior knowledge about the definition of the card. In other words, you don't have to be a tarot expert to do this.

The Five W’s 

  • Who is being depicted on the card?

  • What seems to be happening in this card?

  • When is this action taking place?

  • Where is it taking place? What is the environment?

  • Why do you think this particular scene is taking place?

 Example using the Star card:

  • Who: A naked, voluptuous golden-haired maiden. Appears to be in her late twenties or early thirties. Unabashed and unbothered by her lack of clothes.

  • What: The naked woman is pouring water out of the two jugs she is holding. She empties one into the pond and one onto the ground.

  • When: Night time. The stars are out. Also, the environment seems untouched by civilization or modernity. Possibly 14th-16th century.

  • Where: Somewhere in nature, somewhere pastoral, next to a pond. A tree is seen on a hilltop in the background. Mountain ranges in the distance. The maiden is in a place devoid of public scrutiny; likely away from civilization. Somewhere simple, primitive, safe and secure where she does not worry about being seen naked.

  • Why: The maiden is emptying out the contents from the containers in order to refill them with fresh water that is new and clean. Maybe she is fetching the water needed for the day, or maybe she needs the water for a specific purpose. To clean, to cook, to paint?

 Once you're done noting down your observations--now is the time to make a tentative character profile. 

The golden-haired maiden is not ashamed of her body. She likely leads a solitary life in an undiscovered pastoral heaven, away from public scrutiny or population of any kind. She leads an uncomplicated life basked in nature, with a kind of openness and innocence that allow her to appreciate the simple beauty of Mother Earth. She is like a singular Eve living in an untarnished paradise.  

From here, this general profile holds many possibilities. Maybe you are writing a Neo-Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Maybe you are writing a beautiful, rural romance, in which an innocent and naive young girl (her innocence represented by the nakedness) is about to fall in love with a handsome young man from the big city. Maybe the maiden is not human at all, but a celestial humanoid princess who resides on a different planet, who is ignorant of external worlds and lifeforms.

Exercise #1.1: Using the Star card or any other Major Arcana card of your choosing, write down your observations using the Five W’s Method. To find other cards from the Rider-Waite, simply type “major arcana Rider-Waite” via Google Search. Click here for a complete list of Major Arcana cards.

Exercise #1.2: Looking at the notes you have taken, you will most likely find that there are certain details that you are drawn to, and you are probably making connections and assembling meaning already. While your thoughts are flowing, create a tentative character profile.

Exercise #1.3: To dig deeper, consider the following questions: Why is the card titled The Star? How does it relate to the elements depicted on the card?  How does the title contribute to card’s meaning? How does it relate to the who, what, when, where, and why?