Tag Archives: story telling

Sometimes it happens like this…

Last night as I was dozing off I was visited by Lorelei. There are a lot of new followers lately, so I’ll let everyone know Lorelei is my Muse.

I never saw her, never even smelled her sandalwood scent. Usually, she hits me over the head, but not last night. Maybe I’m in trouble.

I see posts that ask writers what they come up with first, plot or characters. It never happens for me that way. I get little vignettes. There’s a bit of setting, some plot, and a scosh of character. Then it stops. Here’s what I got last night:

I stepped off the monthly bus and removed my new felt safari hat. The plain leather band marked me as an outsider. Maybe I’d get the chance to upgrade it with something a bit more rustic. I wiped the sweat with my sleeve and put the hat back on to protect me from the brutal sun. The driver unloaded my bags and rifle case, then drove on.

The corrugated metal sign across the street was hand painted with The Grey Baboon. I carried my bags to the porch, but brought the rifle case inside. I looked up to see if the roof was really grass, or just on the outside. It was the real deal. The bartender had his back turned polishing a glass.

She sat at a table off to the far right, lounging lazily like no woman I’d ever been around before with one riding boot across a second chair. She wore one of those loose khaki military shirts with epaulets on the shoulders. Her sun bleached blonde hair was tied in back and cascaded over one shoulder.

There were light crows feet around her eyes and her skin was perfectly tanned. It was hard to tell if she was twenty five or forty five, but some of the women in Nairobi had the same look. She was beautiful, but not in that painted New Orleans style from when the boat shipped out. It was more like a perfect wild animal.

She turned over a second glass and filled it from her own bottle of gin, added two drops of quinine and sat it toward me. She took her leg off the chair and used her boot to shove it away from the table.

She pushed back the brim of her filthy old pith helmet. Her nails were cut short and hadn’t seen polish in years. When she spoke, her accent was like a combination of Australian and Heaven. “Welcome to Africa, Mr.–

***

And that’s all I got. It’s almost always that vivid and full of detail. It’s usually just that short too.

I don’t know who he is, or why he went to Africa. I know it’s historical, because he took a boat. There’s no hunting in Kenya these days, and quinine hasn’t been a staple preventative for a few years now.

I don’t know who she is, or how she knows him. She didn’t run up and throw her arms around him. She must be Afrikaans/Boer because of the accent (and the look), but she’s hundreds of miles from South Africa. That could be interesting.

I don’t know what they have planned. It could be as simple as a safari or a land sale. It might be ancient ruins or even an alien crash site. Maybe there is a will to be read.

I may never write their story, but you never know. I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but these people are haunting me. I kind of wanted to make some notes about them and chose to share it here.

Does anyone else ever get vignettes? In all my reading it seems like I’m the odd one here. I’m usually on my own after that, but sometimes Lorelei comes back. Where do your ideas come from?

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Thinking About Contrast

Who’s sick of hearing about my book promotions? I know I am. Let’s talk about unexpected contrast in our writing.

I love contrast, even to the point of conflicting with reader expectations. Writers should always be willing to move from daylight to darkness, from cheer to gloom. I love the final battle on Endor as an example of unexpected contrast. The Empire, with all its technology is up against a bunch of Ewoks with rocks and sharp sticks. We expect the worst, but that isn’t how it played out.

Bad guys with names like Hannibal Lechter are pretty common. What about a handsome hunk called Matt Stone, with blond hair and a White House behind a picket fence. When Matt turns out to be a maker of snuff porn, we get a little jolt as readers. I like the little jolt. It reflects a bit of real life into the story. Lizzie Borden and Ted Bundy don’t sound like scary characters, and they were real.

What if the computer hacker who can do anything online has to solve the key plot point by reading through a pile of ancient scrolls? I like the contrast. The guy is perfectly prepared for the wrong situation.

Why can’t the demon be a female named Britt?

Who didn’t love the swordsman displaying his skills with a huge scimitar? Indiana Jones shot him and moved on. I was there in the theatre the day it was released. The whole crowd cheered.

I’ve seen plenty of full moons in broad daylight. I’ve never seen a werewolf out then. This I can handle, because humans are at a disadvantage in the dark. Our characters should always be at a disadvantage.

Why can’t witchcraft involve microwaves and stick blenders. (Okay, I did this, but I’m not ready to tell you about it.)

Technology vs ancient. Light vs dark. Cold vs hot. Sexy vs ugly. There are times when this can become a trope, but it can also be a nice tool.

I like the idea that Princess Fiona became an ogre and not the other way around. Doc Brown had to find a way to use lightning to power the deLorean. Contrast tech vs nature.

It’s Wednesday so I’m posting. This one would be a lot more fun with some discussions. Weigh in folks. Do you love or hate contrast in stories? Why?

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The Entertaining Stories Primer

I was going to save this post for my one year blog anniversary. I’ve gotten quite a few new followers lately, so I decided to do it today.

Writers need to do something different to stand out from the crowd. I’m not a big believer in posting random chapters of my work. I want this blog to be a friendly and fun place to come. So what’s a writer to do? I could write original bits of small fiction, but others are doing that too.

Here’s what I came up with. I’ll post about my successes, new discoveries, and general writing tips, and I’ll do it as short bits of new fiction. I created the Writing Cabin; a place I go to work on my stories and promotions. I populated it with characters from my stories. The only problem is it’s similar to a long running comic book series, or a soap opera. New readers need a jumping on point.

All of my stories about the writing cabin are posted under the “Muse” category, just in case anyone is game to look at old posts.

Think of this post like the racing forum you get at the county fair. Here’s what you’ll find at the cabin:

The cabin: It’s a large log cabin in a meadow surrounded by forest. The area is a little dicey. There are likely to be herds of mammoth or ice age bison wandering around. I get there in a high tech gyrocopter. There is an elevator into the basement where I can keep my ride away from itchy bison. The basement is full of story elements of every kind.

Lisa: Lisa Burton is the main character in Wild Concept. She is a robot that was built in a concept lab. Since her story is finished she really doesn’t have much to do. She moved into the upstairs bedroom and works as my assistant. She’s a strawberry blonde with a big assed gun.

Lorelei: This is my Muse. She’s Greek (duh), brunette, athletic, and kind of bossy. She shows up whenever she pleases and sometimes visits the real world.

Doubt: This is a raven given to me as a gift by Lorelei. He thinks he’s keeping me honest, but I just think he’s a pain in the ass. He makes a multitude of sounds and occasionally mimics human speech.

Visitors: So far there have been plenty of visitors to the cabin. These include a group of dwarves from a story called The Cock Of The South; Bento, who’s a supporting character in Panama; Faith from Wild Concept who psychoanalyzed me one day; Lefty, the left side of my brain, and more. We even had a bunch of bad guys trying out for a role in one of my stories.

These posts are pretty popular and I intend to keep writing them. I always include asterisks so new readers can catch up, but with so many new followers I wanted to post a primer about the cabin.

It’s fun here. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Tell the left side of your brain.

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A Return to the Idea Mill

I had a great time having D. S. Nelson read my tea leaves. There’s still time to check out my reading and make comments here.

I also owe you guys my own post today. Regular readers know me as a writer of science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy stories. I’ve also blogged about getting ideas from Zite magazine and things I subscribe to in my RSS reader. There’s been some interesting news lately and I decided to share it with you guys.

This is an Idaho headline. Strange black blobs have formed along the Snake River. No one seems to know what they are, but they appear benign. Read the news blurb here: strange blobs.

I can absolutely think of several science fiction stories and maybe even a fantasy based around this. For some reason, Creedence playing It Fell Out of the Sky is running through my head. What about you guys?

In this story, an artist used genetic material from a Van Gogh ancestor along with a laser printer. He created a replica of the artist’s severed ear that people can talk into. He says they can keep the ear alive for several years. Read the blurb here: Genetic ear.

My mind works differently, and I was taken back to The Boys From Brazil. This was a great Gregory Peck movie many years ago regarding the cloning of Adolph Hitler. As a writer, why not Genghis Kahn, Napoleon, or Torquemada.

This one is one of those list type articles that I call mad science. There are eleven technological “advancements” noted. Here’s the link: Super Powers.

Not all of them jump out at me, but I can see a stalker/rapist type with high tech invisibility clothing. I can also see computers that lead to the fall of man by cataloging all of human learning and thought. People no longer have to think for themselves, evolution takes us another direction, the power fails…

And finally, it wasn’t uncommon to cover books with human skin at one time. Harvard University confirmed they have one such book. Someone just helped them self to the skin of a mental patient who passed away. I remember hearing of a pair of shoes made from a Wild West criminal at one point. Read the book article here: Book.

So what if the unfortunate skin donor was really cursed or possessed? I can see a paranormal story where the book is some kind of religious or political artifact, but no one knows the curse is still there. Some centennial event is marked by a politician or Pope reading to the masses from the original book. Where could you go with that one? (Kind of makes me want to see Army of Darkness again.)

I’m sure there are more things out there. I like to post these on occasion, not as writing prompts per say, but to illustrate how I get my ideas. Where do you guys get ideas to write about? If one of these articles inspires you tell us all about it.

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Putting New Work out There

I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to talk about some television shows, and try to draw conclusions for novelists. This may not work, but I’m going to try it. I’m choosing television, because more of us are likely to have seen the same show than read the same book.

Besides, it isn’t nice to call out a novel, which is the work of one stressed out author. Television is a team event, and it feels safer.

The idea is that new work has to meet certain landmarks. The idea is to keep me interested. This feels the same whether it’s a program or a novel.

One caveat. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. Any of you who read Wild Concept probably noticed a few. I’m not perfect, but I can still talk about this stuff. I’m a sucker for Science Fiction, Paranormal, and Fantasy. These shows all fit that bill in one form or another.

Sleepy Hollow is our first show. Ichabod Crane is resurrected in modern times. He’s the only live character in the show that wears clothing from the 1700s. He’s a nice looking white fellow with a pony tail. His modern day partner is Abby. She’s an attractive black girl. Oh, and the main bad guy doesn’t have a head.

Ichabod and Abby have a cute relationship. He’s way out of date, and as she helps him there is a nice, nearly romantic, tension that gets my approval. There are a few funny bits woven into a darker story line. Most of the lighter parts take place in broad daylight, and the dark stuff happens at night. You would think this would be pretty obvious.

For the novelist here are the points I appreciate. I can tell the characters apart. Black girl, white guy, no head – got it. Nice mix of light and dark, in more ways than one. I like Abby and Ichabod. I will go out of my way to watch this next year.

Authors don’t have the ability to use those kinds of visuals, but we have an advantage too. At least every page or two, we have to write “Ichabod said.” Pretty hard to get lost or confused. We can weave in light and dark moments, along with light and dark settings. The trick is to make our readers like the characters they’re supposed to cheer for.

I don’t give up on a book, program, or movie easily. I used to watch a show called Copper. I gave it about three episodes and quit. The stories were pretty good. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight. They all talked alike, refused to shave, dressed alike, and the actors looked alike. After about the fifth time asking “Which one was that?” I was finished.

Writers can give our characters some quirks. As long as our names are distinct, we won’t have much problem. If needed, one of them can go everywhere with a toothpick or something.

Almost Human is a decent bit of science fiction. It involves a white male cop, John, who has a prosthetic leg. His partner, Dorian, is a black cyborg. These guys bust on each other like actual people. They aren’t marionettes simply following a plot. They each have a quirk that makes them slightly less than everyone else. John is a grouchy old school kind of guy. Dorian is high tech and does some surprising things. Great sci-fi effects here too.

As a writer, putting opposites together might be a good idea. There’s a stress between John and Dorian, but they have a common goal too. They’re willing to go some crazy places with the stories. When Dorian scanned John’s balls it was hilarious. I like these guys too. Likable characters, I want to watch more.

Turn is a new show. It’s about an American spy ring during the American Revolution. The characters are distinct enough. Abe looks vaguely like Tom Hiddleston. It’s easy to tell him from the others. The settings are mostly gloomy, even in daylight. I’ve never seen anyone happy in this show ever. It’s pretty easy to tell that the Americans are the good guys and the British are the bad guys.

Abe ratted out some redcoats. The only one that needed to die, survived. He’s in American hands, but it’s all over for Abe if this redcoat escapes. This particular redcoat is an asshole. This works for me. Tell me who not to like.

There are good points and bad points to this one. Abe has a wife and son. We’ve seen him philandering with the local tavern owner lady. This doesn’t exactly make me cheer for him. It was three episodes before they told me that two brothers were both engaged. Abe was verbally engaged to the tavern lady. His brother, in writing to the other woman. When Abe’s brother died. Abe married his brother’s fiancé to honor the contract. Things like this actually happened in the 1700s.

They needed to tell me this earlier. I wasn’t exactly endeared to Abe when he was unfaithful to his wife and son. I might have turned away and never learned the truth. This story line brings a nice tension, particularly when the wife gave her approval to the tavern lady.

As a writer, I think it’s important to define the villain and the hero PDQ. If everyone sucks, readers might look elsewhere. I’ll give this one a couple more episodes, but I’m not sure.

Salem premiered last night. This looks at the Salem witches as if witchcraft were real. John Alden is obviously the hero here, I just don’t like him. He left his love, Mary to go fight Indians. he didn’t return for seven years. Go figure, Mary married someone else. There is a plausibility problem here for me.

This guy left for seven years, never wrote, and walks in like nothing changed. Mary is the main witch now, of course. Everyone scowls, everyone’s dirty, and everyone’s violent. (Okay, Mary seems to stay clean, and she’s always in black.) I have no reason to like a single person in this show. There is a redhead girl with a charming smile. She’s the only character that smiled in a whole hour. She’s a third tier character, and I’m cheering for her.

They could have taken 30 seconds to show Alden doing something nice. Lift a kid up to pick an apple, pet a dog, something. Lots of scowls, dirt, and grumbling from Alden instead. On the plus side, there were some cool special effects. This includes the coolest place to hide your toad familiar I’ve ever seen.

Not only do the characters need to establish who they are, the concept needs to have some degree of reality. Seven years, and Alden expected Mary to wait for him? He didn’t even write. I’ll give it a few more episodes.

So as a writer, I want to define who the hero is, and who the villain is. I want the characters to be different from each other. I want to use a contrast between light and dark, both in mood and setting. I don’t want to base part of my story on something that isn’t realistic. I also don’t want to withhold some important information that might cause someone to give up on my story. If I can include a bit of humor, so much the better.

So how many pages do I have to accomplish all this? I’m guessing about twenty. I think there’s a need to establish something on every page up to that point. What do the real experts have to say about this?

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The Fool’s Journey, Part Five

These titles are starting to sound like the sections in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. I did it to keep the posts in order.

This is where the journey ends. These last cards in the Major Arcana can also help with stories, but not usually the kind I write. I call the blog Entertaining Stories for a reason. I’m more about blowing crap up than ascending to a higher plane. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some good stories in this area, and you might be writing one right now.

Just in case someone finds this a year from now and wants to see the others, here are the links:

  1. Let’s go on the Fool’s Journey.
  2. The Fool’s Journey, Part Two.
  3. The Fool’s Journey, Part Three.
  4. The Fool’s Journey, Part Four.
Our fool has become a pretty mature fellow at this point. In my mind, the last three cards are reserved for tales of absolution. I remember reading Siddhartha in high school, at gun point. Those are the kind of tales we’ve moved into.
 
I’m not saying they’re bad, mind you. I just didn’t see any phasers, katana, or dwarves in them.
 
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The next phase of the journey is called the sun. Words to describe the sun are: wonder, contentment, happiness, vitality, and innocence.
 
The sun is usually represented as a child on a white horse riding with the radiant sun at his back, while carrying a red flag. My Celtic deck is close. I wouldn’t exactly call this horse white, and the kid has a red harp. If you get the idea of rejuvenation and a fresh start, that’s the main point.
 
In my mind he isn’t quite there. The fool is still traveling. This is the point where the confusion of the moon clears and the fool moves forward.
 
I suppose it could be that moment in The Natural when Roy Hobbs wakes up in the maternity ward. His best girl is there with him, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. The instant he decides to play one last baseball game is The Sun.
 
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The next card is called Judgment. I don’t know why my deck chose to go with Rebirth, but there you have it. The standard card has an angel blowing a trumpet while people rise up from graves. My card has a trumpeter and the child emerging from a crypt.
 
This card symbolizes the St. Peter moment before the pearly gates. It’s the resurrection story. Our fool is something new now. Words to describe this card are: Judgment, rebirth, absolution, redemption, salvation, and renewal.
 
The old fool is gone. This new fool has excellent judgment and is ready for whatever comes next.
 
I don’t read, or watch, a lot of highbrow stuff. The example that works for me is Bruce Wayne giving up the billionaire playboy and Stately Wayne Manor in favor of the bat cave. Bruce Wayne becomes a character played occasionally by Batman. Batman is something new, he works for a greater good. (Okay, maybe that was a lame example.)
 
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The World marks the end of the journey. This card is represented as a young nude, usually an amalgamation of male and female. This symbolizes mastery over those traits that are considered either male or female. The work ethic of the magician and the imagination of the high priestess. The nude is surrounded by four distinct items. Sometimes they represent the elements, sometimes the major zodiac constellations, in this case the four tarot suits. The symbols denote mastery over all these distinct items.
 
The fool is perfect now. Words associated with the world are: fulfillment, success, mastery, and accomplishment.
 
As an example, the best I can come up with is Peter Sellers walking on water in the ending scene of Being There.
 
I know my examples are lame, folks. This end of the deck is a little more high brow than where I prefer to spend my time.
 
***
 
Assessment:
 
As a plot structure, I think The Fool’s Journey works. There are others out there that might be better.
 
The first half dozen or so cards are useful for developing a character and giving him an environment to operate in. There are several wonderful opportunities to knock him on his ass and give him something to overcome.
 
For me, The Fool’s Journey starts too soon and ends too late for a novel. I can see where many novels will fit within a narrower version of these cards though.
 
Many times, I find inspiration in art. There are bits and pieces from this deck in some of my stories.
 
As a writer, I’m just as likely to snitch a piece of my story from fairy tale structure, add a bit of the hero’s journey, knead it into a three act format, and sprinkle with a dash of tarot cards. I bake it all up at an imaginary place I call the writing cabin.
 
You have to do what works for you. It never hurts to have another tool in your kit.

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The Fool’s Journey, Part Four

These are the links to the other posts in this sequence:

  1. Let’s Go on the Fool’s Journey
  2. The Fool’s Journey, Part Two
  3. The Fool’s Journey, Part Three
Our fool has come a long ways. He’s conquered his own phobias, and recognized his shortcomings. The last stop on his journey he learned about Temperance.
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The next stop on the fool’s journey is The Devil. Again, my deck took some liberty at this point. He is most commonly presented on a throne, with a couple chained beneath him. His right hand is usually raised, and his left is lower with a torch in it.I still buy that the couple in my Cernunnos card is under his dominion. I’ll accept the background light as a substitute for his torch.

This devil isn’t the actual devil. He’s a representation of another internal lesson for the fool. This devil stands for happy indulgence. The couple could get up and leave, but they’re so entranced by the immediacy of their situation they don’t even notice The Devil. Words associated with this card are: Materialism, stagnation, obsession, anger, temptation, and doubt.

Since I’ve stuck to movies for examples, I’ll keep with the theme. I think Fatal Attraction has many elements of this stage of the journey. Selfish indulgence led to some severe problems.

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The Tower represents a sudden and dramatic change in the fool’s life. It is usually represented like the card in my deck. Lightening strikes a powerful fortress, and the occupants are hurtled into the sea. There is occasionally a crown falling that symbolizes the fall of someone important. This card has occasionally been represented as Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden.

Our fool is struck by disaster. His complacency and love of material things has drawn the wrath of God. Words associated with The Tower are: release, revelation, sudden change, chaos, hard times, and impact.

There were a whole series of Irwin Allen disaster movies. These usually involved a catastrophe and a bunch of privileged people. I also think Chevy Chase was trying desperately to preserve his “tower” in all those Vacation movies.

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The Star represents the moment the fool understands he doesn’t need all that stuff. Life is more than a tower full of finery. It is represented by a person stripped bare under a starry sky. The fool understands he has everything he needs within himself. It is an important point that water is being put back, not taken away. The fool starts to give of himself to others.

Words associated with The Star are: generosity, inspiration, calm, good will, flowing love.

I see the end of Casablanca as having traits of The Star. Rick gives up his beloved cafe, and the woman he loves to serve a greater good. In fact Casablanca is a good movie to represent The Devil, The Tower, and The Star.

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The Moon is another cautionary card. The joy and tranquility of The Star lead to imaginative dreaming. He may be ready for another adventure. The Fool knows that his sharing and caring might not be well received everywhere. He’s apprehensive.

The standard involves a dog and a wolf howling at the moon, which is framed with two pillars. There is usually a crayfish coming out of the water. My deck has a crab. There is a new path into the unknown. In my mind, the wolf and dog represent different sides of the fool. The experts say the crayfish represents that unpredictable part of the personality that lives deep down below everything else.

Words associated with The Moon are: fantasy, doubt, tension, illusion, fear, the unknown.

To me, this is an educated fool about to take a new journey into the unknown. He knows enough to be apprehensive, unlike the fool at the beginning, and his doubts might prevent him from taking the journey at all. Maybe he’ll rebuild his former life, maybe he won’t.

There must be a hundred stories based around this event, but only one comes to mind. It was a book, and at least two movies, The Razor’s Edge.

This could also be the point in Yoda’s life where he doesn’t train Jedi any longer. Then again, maybe one last time.

This is our stopping off point tonight. I have a hankering for some good whiskey.

Writers will see that many potential novels could be born and ended in the cards we’ve already presented. Most modern stories have ended by this point. There is still a bit of room for some good stories, and we’ll get to those next time.

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The Fool’s Journey, Part Three

Today, I’m continuing with the fool’s journey. Those of you who want to catch up can do so here:

  1. Let’s go on The Fool’s Journey.
  2. The Fool’s Journey, Part Two.
When we left our fool, he’d become a hermit. He went to a cave, a man cave, or on vacation to sort some things out. He understands that everything he’s done up to this point brought him to this point. He knows there are consequences for his actions as well as rewards. He is successful at his pondering, but he can’t leave until he realizes one more thing.
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The Wheel of Fortune teaches our fool that he cannot control everything. He influences the world he lives in, but sometimes the world influences back. For a writer, this can be an actual occurence, but in the fool’s journey it’s more like a realization.

The Wheel brings famine, volcanoes, acts of God, and other things to bear. The fool has to do the best he can under these circumstances. It can also bring benefits, like promotions, winning the lottery, or choosing the right horse in the Derby.

Words associated with the Wheel are; harvest, inevitability, prosperity, destiny, fate, change, and particularly sudden change.

This card varies more than any other from deck to deck. There aren’t really any standards to point out.

To go back to an earlier example, Sheriff Brody was living as a hermit. He never asked for a killer shark to invade his new life and threaten his solitude.

I suppose there is a story somewhere that could end with the realization that the Wheel brings. I’m pretty sure several started right here though. For some reason, I’m stuck on movies during this post. The ones that come to mind are Dante’s Peak and Twister. The main characters were involved in their own versions of hermitage, and life changed the course of events for them.

Our fool leaves his hermitage, and wanders once more. He is pondering this newfound knowledge and realizes one more thing.

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The fool ponders his new knowledge until he realizes that he must take responsibility for his own actions. The Justice card reminds him that he is where is based upon his actions. Justice tells him to make amends for those actions where it is appropriate. Justice also reminds him that when he makes decisions from now on, he needs to remember the affect his decisions have on others.

Words associated with the Justice card are realism, reality, fairness, objectivity, analysis, criticism, and responsibility. Justice is usually depicted with a sword and a scale. I like the fact that my card also includes an owl.

For writers, will your main character learn from Justice and improve, or will he return to the older and easier way of the Chariot. I never watched the show, but I loved the idea behind it. In Breaking Bad, a chemistry teacher becomes a meth cooker. I see the failure of the Justice card at work.

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The fool comes across The Hanged Man, and is shocked by what he sees. He’s saddened even. He discovers that the hanged man isn’t dead. His legs form a cross, and he’s upside down. The fool thinks about his own life being turned upside down. The hanged man is bound and gagged, much like the fool has been.

This is the fool facing his deepest fear, his failure to obtain the one thing he wants most in life. The fool realizes that he is the hanged man. He’s no longer sad, he is simply suspended. The fool understands that he must let go of some things to obtain others.

Words associated with The Hanged Man are; sacrifice, letting go, surrender, and acceptance.

The only constant symbol among decks is the image of a cross somewhere. I like the fact that mine has apples in it. They represent knowledge to me, and that says a lot about this part of the fool’s journey.

This point represents what I like to think of as “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”. It’s that moment of realization. In many stories the main character symbolically burns his house, or blows up his mine before leaving to do what has to be done.

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You knew it was coming, right? All good main characters must face death. Most of the time, it’s a spiritual thing, but there have been some pretty good stories where actual death was on the line.

Death represents a change. Our fool is going to cast aside childish things to grow as a man. (Or woman. It’s your story to plug your characters into.) Maybe he sells his drag racer, the one that brought him fame and street credit as a young man. He uses the money to make a downpayment on a house for his wife and children. The old fool dies, and a newer and better fool emerges.

Death is usually a skeletal figure on horseback with a sickle. He is trampling a king under his horse’s hooves. My deck is different, but the sickle is still there. Terms associated with the Death card are; Precursor to change, making way for the new, regeneration, out with the old and in with the new.

Think of The Hanged Man and Death like a butterfly’s cocoon. It feels like the end, but it’s really the beginning of something better.

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark is captured by terrorists and shoved in a cave. Life as he knows it is over. Iron Man emerges from the cave, and Tony’s life is better as a result. This isn’t just Tony’s escape, it’s a complete transformation.

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The next stop on the fool’s journey is Temperance. Once again, my deck took some artistic license, but I like the Fferyllt anyway. I used the hagstones in her rafters in one of my stories.

This lesson is all about balance, temperance, equilibrium, even bringing together opposites to create balance. This would be a good point in a story to create the team. People with different skills come together to make something better than the sum of its parts.

This is a good point to remind writers that everything in tarot has a double meaning. If you’re writing about the bad guy, this could be about imbalance, and tearing things apart. Anakin/Darth Vader comes to mind.

I hope everyone’s enjoying this look at the fool’s journey. I see this lasting about 3 more posts, and there’s more interesting stuff ahead.

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The Fool’s Journey, Part 2

When we left the fool, he’d learned a bit about imagination and planning. He learned about his personal work ethic. We met his parents, and he’s been loved and nurtured. The world is fertile, but he hasn’t experienced it yet. You can read part one here: Let’s go on the Fool’s Journey.

We have a main character, but he’s a bit boring right now. Breaking this into sections has been tough. We’re still developing our fool, but the next card stands for a bit more.

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The next character on the hero’s journey is an important one. In most decks he’s called the hierophant. In many, he’s the Pope. In a few decks, like mine, he’s the high priest. I’m not thrilled with my card. The hierophant usually has his first two fingers toward heaven, and the next two toward earth. In my deck he still has two fingers each direction, but he seems to want to be in a metal band, or to attend the University of Texas.

In most decks he’s bestowing a blessing, or initiation on a couple of newbies. For some reason this didn’t happen here.

This is an important card for a writer. It stands for education, structure, rules, initiation, and belonging, routine, and counsel. The fool has been walking around on a blank page until now.

This part of the story could involve the priesthood, a knighthood, a position in the starting lineup, or a street gang. The fool’s journey paints with a broad brush. It’s the writer’s job to fill in the details. Your fool could be a loner, but there are still rules in his society. Maybe he’s fleeing from a posse, who has rules and structure.

I think the movie Animal House was all about this card.

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The next step on the fool’s journey is that he wants something. All main characters should want something. The lovers has definite sexual and relationship overtones, but that’s not all it’s about. Love, fulfillment, choice, and surrender are the idea here. This card represents growth in the fool. He’s been kind of self centered and selfish up to this point.

If you’re writing a romance, this might be the end of your tale. On the other hand, your romance might want to go through some trials and troubles. Maybe your fool got on the starting lineup, but now he’s becoming part of the team. Maybe he loves his new job.

As an example, the movie American Pie ended once the characters got what they wanted.

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The chariot represents accomplishment. Our fool has used everything he’s learned up to this point and moved up in the world. He learned from all the previous stops along his journey; school, imagination, work ethic, friends, and lovers. This is also an egotistical card. This card stands for travel, triumph, success, ego, and fame.

I think the chariot and the lovers can be reversed if the story calls for it. Sleepless in Seattle anyone?

I like the idea that there’s a white horse and a black horse. It reminds me of Plato’s representation of a chariot and driver as the whole man. Here’s a link to a two part breakdown.

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The main character gets beaten down in our stories. There’s an old line about, “what do you get when you don’t get what you wanted? Character.” The fool gains strength. This character is all about courage, strength, compassion, self control, kindness, and gentleness.

Strength is depicted as a woman with a lion, and she’s dominant over the lion. In my deck she’s with a boar. Her sword is cast aside, because it’s not needed. She is the master and the boar knows it.

A main character at this point may have overcome an enemy, but is gracious and mature in victory. The fool is capable of building up after having torn down. For some reason, I see the last three cards at play in An Officer and a Gentleman.

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It’s time for our fool to look within; to reflect and ponder the meaning of life. The hermit demonstrates this time in the fool’s life. He stands for solitude, reclusion, introspection, and thought.

Our fool has seen good people fail, and evil triumph in his life. He wonders what it’s all about. I don’t think this needs to be a big section of your novel, but it can be a useful one when you need it. Examples where the hermit plays a major roll include the book/movie Jaws. Sheriff Brody fled the city with his family. He just wanted a safe place with a little solitude. Clint Eastwood played the hermit in Gran Torino. Niether of these characters lasted long as hermits, life came calling. These stories started at this point.

We’ll stop here tonight. We managed to flesh out the fool as a character, educate him, give him a desire, and a bit of personality. He even has some bad traits, like an ego. He’s a more interesting fellow than we left him.

These cards can represent other characters in your stories, or situations only. Some novels will start somewhere in this section, others may end in this section.

What do you think of the fool’s journey as a kind of story structure? We’ve gone through ten of twenty two stops so far. I promise to cover the rest as the month plays out.

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Let’s go on the Fool’s Journey

I may not be the best person to write this sequence, but I’m sure going to try. My purpose is to look at the tarot as a type of story structure, from a writer’s point of view. If you’re looking for help with readings, and interpretations, you’ve come to the wrong place. Tarot is much more than I’m going to address, but I’m limiting this to writing.

Tarot is extremely old, and is one of the oldest story structures out there. It goes from a lump of clay all the way to an almost godlike being. This is too far for most contemporary novels. In many cases it starts too soon, and ends too late. There is still good information here, so bear with me.

I’ll try to get through all 22 of the major arcana cards in the month of April. This will require some grouping. Keep in mind also that thousands of tarot decks exist. Creators take some liberties, and the one I’m photographing changed some of the names. I’ll try to caption with the most popular names, even though the deck names appear in the photos.

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This is the first card in the fool’s journey. He’s our main character, and I’ll try to call him the fool throughout, but he won’t remain a fool for long. He’s almost always depicted going on the first steps of a journey. He’s typically shown about to step off a cliff. Our characters make mistakes. He usually has a small dog that represents courage, and is barking a warning. Most decks have him holding a white rose to depict purity. Mine uses a bunch of mistletoe.

I see him as someone leaving home for the first time. He could be a graduate, or moving somewhere for his first job. He can also be a girl. He’s fresh, new, brave, and unafraid. At this stage he’s all about potential.

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The fool soon meets and is influenced by the magician and the high priestess. These are opposites, but they both influence the fool.

The magician is all about willpower, design and planning, and a can do attitude. He usually has one hand toward heaven and one toward earth. Think of him like a work ethic.

The high priestess is a little more spiritual. She’s all about dreams, intuition, and imagination. She’s usually depicted with the moon, which was a spiritual symbol, and between two pillars as a framework for focus.

Together these two will inspire our fool to think imaginatively, and teach him to work to obtain his goal.

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The next two influences are the emperor and empress. This is one of the places my deck differs. These are usually thought of as the fool’s parents. They have different influences upon their child.

The empress is about beauty and happiness. She depicts a world that is fertile and abundant. She is usually depicted with crops of some kind. She’s also pregnant to demonstrate her fertility. She’s kind of an encourager and enabler to the fool.

The emperor is all about fatherhood, stability, authority, boundaries, and discipline. He’s going to instill a desire to control certain things in our fool. These are still fairly simplistic, like controlling his own destiny for whatever reason, there is usually an eagle on this card somewhere. To me this means leadership. Our fool is a main character after all.

Together the emperor and empress usually depict nature in some form. I like to think of this as the basic needs in life. I also note the pregnancy as a warning that they’re here for our fool, but he isn’t their only responsibility.

I’m going to stop here today, but I want to summarize a bit. Some stories will start at the fool stage. Luke Skywalker is a reasonable example.

In any event, your main character should have some qualities reflecting each of these characters. They don’t have to be good qualities. Your fool may have learned willpower from the magician, and rejected the work ethic. Maybe he gets along better with his mother and is always in trouble with his father.

These early cards are worth considering when designing a character. Even when you aren’t ready to start your story here.  Consider whether your fool has a work ethic or not, how much imagination does your character exhibit, is he more loving and nurturing, or more formal and rigid.

These cards can appear as characters themselves, or merely be influences upon your character. I like to start my stories a little bit further along, but these traits should be in there somewhere.

Feel free to tweet, reblog, and comment away. I’m not going to stick to a rigid schedule for this, but I’ll save it under the “writing” category for your convenience.

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