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!

3 Keys To Creating The Hero Of Your Reader’s Dreams

How to create a character they'll never forget.

Who doesn’t love falling in love? One of my favorite parts of being a writer is the experience of falling head over heels in love with a character.

That’s also why I devour romance novels like they are some sort of peanut butter and chocolate concoction. Every time I pick up a book, I hope that the hero in this story will be one of them… you know, one of the few who joins the ranks of fictional men I’ll never forget.

I was recently told by a reader that the hero of my novel Dharma and Desire is on their list of favorite characters ever. I was honored — and floored. I’m not saying this to brag. I don’t imagine my hero is everyone’s cup of tea. But it got me thinking. What about him touched this reader (and me) so deeply?

Why do some heroes ingrain themselves in our minds and hearts while others don’t? What sets them apart? 

Being a good person with passion and purpose is the foundation for a great hero. Add the following traits and conflicts to the mix and you have the recipe for an irresistible character…

1. He’s wounded.

I know, describing the hero as some sort of wounded animal is pretty cliche. But we can’t argue with what works.

And why does it work? An animal that is wounded is both vulnerable and dangerous. All women possess a primal instinct to heal. And if the animal they want to heal is dangerous because it is in pain — she’ll want to help even more. And so will your reader.

It’s also humbling to have a wound or limitation. Generally speaking, heroes are a bit arrogant, so an injury is a good way to temper that arrogance.

The wound can be mental, emotional, or physical — or a combination of them all. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long is it makes him vulnerable, dangerous, and a little bit humble.

2. He has a damn good reason why he can’t (or shouldn’t) be with her.

Every woman wants a man who wants her desperately, madly, and passionately. A hero who will launch a thousand ships to reach her shore. A lover who will go mad if he cannot be with her. So give him a reason why he can’t be with her and watch him go mad. A hero who is deeply conflicted over his desire for the heroine is oh so intriguing. (Mr. Darcy, anyone?)

Keep in mind that the reason he can’t (or shouldn’t) be with her can be minor to the heroine, the reader and the world, but it must be a damn good reason to him.

3. He knows something the heroine, and possibly the reader, doesn’t know.

We all want a mysterious hero and this trick certainly helps. It can be applied in two different ways:

  1. He has worldly knowledge or wisdom that your heroine and/or reader does not have (and wants to have.)
  2. He has a secret that the heroine and/or reader should (and eventually will) know.

If you want your hero to be especially mysterious use them both! I did. My hero possesses deep spiritual wisdom. My heroine desperately needs the guidance and wisdom he can offer. My hero ALSO has a secret: knowledge of a dark prophecy about the heroine which is not revealed until the end.

(And by the way, that dark prophesy is also one of the damn good reasons he can’t be with her.)

 

So there you have it. Combine one or more of these and you’ll write a hero your readers will never forget!

What makes a hero unforgettable to you?

The What If Game

 

The fast and fun way out of writer's block.

I don’t get writer’s block. I just get stuck. I think that’s what happens to most of us. We get confused about where our story is heading or about what scene should come next. But we can always write something.

And that’s exactly what I used to do. I’d get stuck in the middle of my story and go start something else. Until eventually I had a dozen half-written stories piling up and collecting dust. Nowadays, I know the importance of finishing what I start. But I still get stuck.

So how do I escape from behind the massive walls of confusion and doubt?

Play the what if game!

To play the what if game, all you need to do is start listing possibilities. They don’t have to be probable — or even possible. They can be totally absurd. Treat the what if game like a stream-of-consciousness exercise. Don’t think about it, just write down the first thought that pops into your head. Then the next. And the next. And so on.

Here’s a screenshot of the what if game I played today:
The What If GameAs you can see, some ideas are silly. But as the game progressed the ideas became more interesting. In fact, I’m getting excited to dive into one or two of these.

In less than five minutes I freed myself from writer’s block!

You may make a list of a hundred what ifs and only use one. Maybe you won’t use any. That’s fine. Because I guarantee that simply doing the exercise will spark your imagination. You’ll gain insights into your characters and come up with questions about your story that need to be answered.

Just don’t think too hard. If you’re anything like me, that’s the best way to keep yourself stuck. 🙂

My One and Only Writing Rule (That Activates The Inner Author Archetype)

That activates the inner author archetype.

That activates the inner author archetype.

I only have one writing rule and it may seem a little strange. But I am a writer after all. It’s to be expected.

Honestly, I take slight issue with all these rules of writing and formulaic approaches to the craft. Yes, some are good to keep in mind. But if I worry too much about whether or not I am following the right formula, writing in the right genre, or hitting every supposedly required structural element of a story, I end up stifling my creative process.

When I approach writing I want to get my subconscious involved, I want to access the deep recesses of my psyche where the good stuff hides. If I’m super rigid about writing this is hard to do.

Yes, I believe we should write everyday and try to create a routine. But even this isn’t a hard and fast rule for me. Sometimes I need to walk away. In the space between words is often where I’ll receive insights about my story.

So, enough stalling. What’s my one writing rule?

No writing in pajamas.

That’s it. There’s a few reasons why I have this rule.

The obvious reason is that it helps me feel that I am treating writing as a job. It makes me feel a bit more connected to the human race. (Just a bit.)

But the main reason I have this rule, which might seem silly to others, is that dressing a certain way activates the “archetypal author” in my subconscious.

My grandmother was a world renowned concert harpist. She was an incredibly strong, successful, and graceful woman who always looked impeccable. As a child I was in awe of her enormous closet filled with elegant dresses and gowns. (Okay, even as an adult I was in awe.) She always said “It is not enough to be a harpist, one must also dress as a harpist.”

IMG_0105

I guess that concept became engrained.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that to be a writer all one must do is dress as a writer! We must also do the work of writing. (And what does a writer dress like anyway? That archetypal image is personal to all of us. I bet it would be fun to compare. 🙂 )

What I am saying is that acting “as if” can have a powerful effect on our subconscious mind, allowing us to step more fully into that which we truly are.

This rule certainly isn’t for everyone. Maybe some write best in pajamas. When it comes to the creative process, we need to find what works for us. Even if what works seems totally weird to others.

Speaking of which, check out this fun book on this subject…  Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers

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It’s Okay To Lose Your Pants (And Other Lessons Learned From Writing My 1st Novel)

And other lessons learned from writing my first novel.

From initial conception to publication, my first novel took almost 7 years to write. Granted, there were months – years even, that I didn’t work on it at all. But I can safely say that in 7 years I learned a lot about how to write, and how not to write, a book.

It’s okay to lose your pants.

I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline, plan, or structure. I let the creative process guide me. I let the story tell me where it wants to go.

But there were many times those pants went missing. I couldn’t find a single thread to write by, much less an entire seat! I was utterly naked, vulnerable, and lost. I had no idea where I was heading. I wailed unto the Universe in abject agony. How could you desert me oh, muse? (Or, um, pants?) I knew I’d never find my direction again. It had all been for nothing.

Needless to say, I always, eventually, found my pants. Usually when I wasn’t looking for them.

It’s okay to lose your pants, your direction, and your inspiration. It happens. You might as well accept it. I did (finally.) And because of that, my second book is proving far less traumatic to write.

Don’t edit while writing.

Justin McLachlan says “Trying to edit while writing is like trying to chop down a tree while you’re climbing it.” It’s true. This is why I was stuck in that damn tree for over 7 years!  Now, if you are utterly pants-less and devoid of all direction, I think it’s okay to go back and do a little editing. Sometimes it triggered ideas for me. But editing constantly as you write is a big mistake.

Perfectionism is not your friend. Self-compassion is.

Should you have your work professionally proof-read and edited? Absolutely. Should you receive feedback before release? Definitely. Should you constantly compare yourself to your favorite, famous authors? Probably not. Should you write and edit, write and edit, until your book is 100% perfect? No. Because it will never be perfect. At some point you simply have to know that you created something wonderful that you are proud of, and let your baby out into the world. You’ll never reach that point if you demand perfection.

If you’re anything like me you can be extremely hard on yourself. The process of writing a novel is HARD. Give yourself some credit and be kind to yourself. I had such a difficult time doing that with my first book.

Writing a novel takes immense faith.

It takes guts, it takes dedication, and it takes a lot of time. But I believe, more than anything, writing a novel takes faith. I knew deep in my heart that this book would be written and I trusted the creative process – even when I was pants-less. Even when I was wailing in abject agony to the Universe, a small part of me knew it would be okay. Nurture and cultivate that part. You must truly believe in your story and the fact that the idea was given to you for a reason. The world needs your book. Have faith that the words will come.

I should have started building my author platform sooner.

I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t feel worthy enough. I wish I’d found this amazing site sooner: Your Writer Platform Get moving on that, no matter what stage of writing you’re at. Struggling to find readers after your book is published is no-fun.

So there it is. I may do a second post on this topic, as there’s more I’d like to share. Is there anything in particular you’d like me to address?

If you’ve already written and published your first novel, what did you learn?

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Are You Prepared To Answer These Simple Questions?

I wasn't.

I, an extremely introverted author, recently found myself at a birthday party with a large group of strangers. (Okay, Athena, you can handle this.) 

The subject of my novel’s release came up. (Crap, this is scary. But it’s an opportunity. You’ve got this.)

I received the usual questions: What’s your book about? (It’s a historical romance with Eastern spiritual themes. You can find it on Amazon.)

Did you self-publish and are you making money? (Yes. And ha ha ha.)

How long did it take to write? (7 years.)

Then someone turned to me and asked “Why should I read your book?” (Oh God. Cuz… it’s… um… good?) 

I stumbled through some kind of half-hearted response about my book being “different.” You could literally feel the energy in the room drop.

Then she asked “As a writer what are you good at? (*danger danger* Retreat now!)

I could have said a dozen different things. I write stunningly evocative love stories that entwine spirituality and history in unique and interesting ways. I am great at creating tension and desire between characters that builds throughout the story. Etc. But did I say any of those things? No. I mumbled something about being good at writing passion. In response I could hear the crickets chirping.

I know I’m a good writer. I know what I’m good at and I know my book is amazing. But I simply hadn’t prepared for such questions. I’m not a natural salesperson and when put on the spot I didn’t know how to sell myself.

I blew an opportunity to gain new readers. But I did learn an important lesson, so it’s not all bad. And now I can pass that lesson onto you!

The lesson is: be prepared to answer these questions – in person – not in writing.

But until you find yourself in the spotlight at a party full of strangers, tell me in the comments… Why should I read your book? And as a writer, what are you good at?

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