The Character Insight Spread

A fun, unique, and surprisingly effective way to learn more about your character! Use a tarot deck or regular playing cards.

Have you ever had one of your characters surprise you? Perhaps something they said gave you a sudden insight into their motivation. Or perhaps you awoke in the middle of the night with a realization about their past. Good characters do that. They are always whispering little secrets about themselves that they want us to know. This exercise is a fun and unique way to turn up the volume on those whispers!

I’ve been using the Tarot for almost twenty years to help friends and family gain insights into themselves. The other day it hit me: why not create a spread specifically for the characters in my book? And so The Character Insight Spread was born!

Not only does this layout provide insights about your character’s life and personality, it can also inspire all kinds of new plot twists if you’re feeling stuck.

If you don’t have a Tarot deck, you can use regular playing cards. It won’t be as in depth, but it will work. Visit Playing Card Divination for excellent descriptions of card meanings.

The Layout

The character insight spread for writers

1. The character’s past.

2. The character’s present.

3. The character’s future.

4. Subconscious influences/a secret. (What the character doesn’t see.)

5. Hopes or fears.

6. Their world view.

7. Their world view continued.


How To Do It

Shuffle your cards and think about your character. I usually say “Tell me about so-and-so,” a few times. After they are thoroughly shuffled, cut the deck once, then lay out your cards. If you’re an expert card reader you can take it from here. If not, consult the book that came with your Tarot deck or look up playing card meanings here. You may also leave your layout in the comments and I will try to help.

As you are interpreting the reading, keep an open mind and engage your imagination. Sometimes cards are only hints. Let them spark your creativity! If you are confused about a card pull a second card to clarify.

Remember that the cards influence one another and are interpreted as a whole.

About Court Cards

Court cards can be tricky to interpret. They can represent your character, aspects of their personality, or another person all together. If, for example, a Queen shows up in your character’s world view, consider that it might be their mother or another woman who impacted your character in a profound way. Perhaps the layout is telling you another character should be added to your story. If you are totally confused about the appearance of a face card in your reading, pull a second card to clarify.

Example Reading 1

Example 1This reading is for my character, Raven, from my current work in progress, Raven In Gray.

1. Her past: Restricted, unable to make decisions. Sorrow. Imprisoned.

2. Her present: Imbalance. Energy is being wasted and scattered. Out of control.

3. Her future: Sharp, organized, and perceptive. Able to cut through confusion to arrive at the truth. Transformation.

4. Subconscious influences/secret: Moving away from conflict. Let emotions settle.

5. Hopes or fears: Freedom from bondage.

6. World view: Poverty, low vitality, spiritual emptiness.

7. World view continued: Sudden, unexpected upheaval.

Putting It Together

Raven is a woman who has felt trapped and in bondage. She is currently acting out and going to extremes because of that frustration. Her subconscious knows she needs to move away from the source of her emotional upheaval (whether or not she listens to that wisdom is another matter.) Her ultimate hope is to be free from the bondage she feels. Her world view is that poverty and tragedy can strike at any moment, so she must constantly be on guard. (I didn’t know this about her. Why she feels this way is something I’ll have to explore.) But in the end her future looks positive; she has become the wise Queen of Swords who has learned from her past. She is looking down at the butterfly on her sword, knowing that like the butterfly she has been transformed.

Example Reading 2Example 2

This reading is about Torin, my tormented artist in Raven In Gray.

1. His past: Intense grief and loss. Suppressed pain not being faced.

2. His present: Overwhelmed by financial demands. No long-term plans.

3. His Future: Dreamy and passive. Lives in fantasy not reality. Creative outlet could help.

4. Subconscious influences/secret: Life feels unfair. Blaming others for problems. Comparing self to others.

5. Hopes or fears: Moving away from conflict. Emotions settle.

6. World view: Hard working. Skilled with materials and hands.

7. World view continued: Just like life, we have our own cycles and rhythms. Fate.

Putting It Together

Torin experienced profound pain and loss but never dealt with it. (Something I didn’t know about him. But it fits!) Currently he is floundering, especially financially. He doesn’t even realize that he blames others for his own problems, or that he compares himself to others. He hopes someday he will escape conflict and pain, and experience peace. His world view is actually pretty positive. He views himself as skilled. He knows that life is cyclical so perhaps he figures that “things will eventually come around.” He believes in fate, which might make him feel disinclined to take action. In the end, he chooses passivity, and decides he’d rather stay in his fantasy world than face the reality outside.


Both of these readings were crazy accurate. And both gave me some interesting ideas to chew on.

Give it a try and see what you find! Let me know how it works for you.

If you’re struggling with the interpretation, give me a shout out. I’m happy to help if I can!


  1. Nat says

    Hello Ms. Athena!
    I found this post via pinterest, and I think it’s great. What a clever idea! (I’ve also been enjoying looking through the rest of this site. There are so many interesting insights that I feel might prove really helpful to my writing endeavors. Thank you for sharing so much with us! I -gotta- try the 30 Day challenge.)
    I was hoping for your help with the worldview cards for my main character. Most of the rest of his spread I think I understand, but the worldview is confusing the heck out of me. I pulled Ten of Cups (for card #6) and then the High Priestess (for card #7). Any insight as to what that might indicate?
    (Oh, and while I have your attention, do you have any ideas about what the Two of Swords for Hopes/Fears might indicate?)
    Thank you very much for your time!

    • says

      Hi Nat! Sorry for the late reply. Hmmm… it’s somewhat difficult to interpret without knowing what the rest of the spread looks like. I’m not sure I can tell you anything different from what a google search on the meaning of those cards would tell you.
      But let’s see… Ten of Cups and High Priestess might suggest that your character believes that creating and enjoying a happy family is what’s most important in life and that they have a very wise, intuitive, and almost spiritual approach to their partnership and family. It can suggest needing to get more in touch with their feminine side (regardless of gender.) It suggests they have an intuitive approach to life – they can see below the surface. And they believe that if they follow their intuition they will ultimately find happiness and fulfillment. They see the world positively (provided cards up upright) – and strive to see the deeper meaning of things.
      The two of swords for hopes and fears would probably mean fear of making the wrong choice. Or even fear of having to be faced with a choice they don’t want to make.
      Hope that helps!
      athenamarie recently posted…Trust Your Creative ProcessMy Profile

      • Nat says

        Hello Athena!
        I though your response was pretty prompt, actually! I appreciate your time and attention.
        Thank you for your insight. It’s very helpful! I’ve taken out some books on Tarot and I’m getting a much better understanding of the individual cards, but I still was having trouble getting how the two worldview cards worked -together-, you know? I think I have a better understanding of it now.
        Heh heh, I’m still trying to work out how it makes sense for this particular character (he’s a scientist who doesn’t feel positively about his family and starts the story with no close friends or romantic partners… so the Ten of Cups is really interesting to find in his spread!) but I’m sure all will be made clear with more time and research.
        Your hopes and fears interpretation really works for my character! I hadn’t come to quite that conclusion, and I’m glad I asked you. That makes everything make more sense.
        Thanks again for sharing your wisdom. 🙂

  2. Kerstin says

    interesting spread. However, I’m not entirely clear what you mean by “worldview continued.” The name implies that their worldview would change in the future, but in your readings, it’s more their material situation that has changed…

    • says

      In the first example it is more material, but the second isn’t. I think of it as a clarifying card… provides extra information if there is any confusion.

  3. Lori DiAnni says

    I just did this using a regular deck of cards and it was so accurate for the hero and heroine. I was shocked! I did character sketches before and knew where they needed to be going (goals, conflicts and motivations). So, out of curiosity, I decided to use your method using the cards. Oh My! I love it! Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea for character development.

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