A single card is all I need for a bit of flash, I pull it before I start my chores, then daydream about it and take notes while I clean (or cook, walk, whatever). That can turn into a longer story, but usually my more complicated, and therefore longer, tales come from a small spread or layout.
I’ve done two stories based on a two card spread, one for Romeo/Juliet, and one for Predator/Prey, so you can see how a two card draw can be pretty flexible. Parent/Child, Light/Dark, whatever you wish.
The 3 card draw is usually past, present, future. I like to think of it as the seed of the story, the tree that grew from that seed, and the fruit of that tree. I think I got that from a book when I was a teenager, and that was twenty years ago so I’m at a loss for the title. It can have any meaning you want it to, really. You don’t need a formal layout of any kind, a lot of tarot readers make up their own spreads on the fly.
Another layout I’m fond of is elemental in nature, based on the wheel of elements as it was taught to me when I was a young little thing, it’s more Anglo-Saxon in history than the many Native American perspectives, or other shamanic points of view.
Thinking of a compass rose, the standard method to show north on a map, the element of earth goes in the north, air in the east, fire in the south, water in the west, and spirit in the center. The fifth element, the hidden element of spirit, comes whenever you combine the other four elements, and it shines down from above. Think of that the next time you’re watching movies that feature meat popsickles.
I interpret this layout as advice for the mind (air), to drive the spirit and find motivation (fire), to heal the heart (water), to strengthen the body (earth), and to be one with your true self, your guiding lesson for the moment (spirit). You, or, naturally, your protagonist. Whatever floats your boat at the moment.
Your booklet has more spreads, and if that isn’t enough for you, there are many spreads online, as well as books that focus on tarot spreads, if you get into them enough. That’s all you need to know to get started.
You can use the cards however you like, on their own or in combination with other prompts. Got a writing exercise and your current project doesn’t fit the parameters? Pull a card or three.
I like to use them to explore aspects of what I’m researching at the time, constraining my interpretation to whatever skillset or body of knowledge I want to polish off. For instance, Vigilante was about pitting an organized serial killer against a disorganized one, written while I was reading books by FBI profilers. Our Children toyed with a collective point of view. My needs framed my interpretation.
I do this because when I was getting my bachelor’s in Psych, I had multiple professors that liked using their knowledge of the field to enhance their student’s learning. Even my psych textbook broke down some aspects of how we can learn more efficiently in the introduction. If you want to remember certain aspects of your research without the need to look it up later, work it into your writing in different ways. (Also, take notes by hand and review them a couple of days before you go to bed.)
If you want to keep a record of your layouts and the prompts you’ve pulled from them, quick notation helps. Those names get boring to write out. A method of shorthand for notes can be along the lines of: roman numerals for the major arcana, the number and first letter of the suit for the minor arcana, and P, Kn, Q, or K for the court cards. Noting a three card spread and the prompt interpreted could look like: KnP, II, 7P. This refers to: Knight of Pentacles, II – The Empress, and 7 of Pentacles.
A simple sketch of the layout and the shorthand on the back of each sketched card will help you remember how you came up with certain stories, if you wish to renew your inspiration or keep a journal of personal introspection. If you have multiple decks, note the deck used and use notation based on the deck itself rather than tradition to prevent confusion. My housewives’ tarot lists the empress as II rather than IV, so if I use that deck, I use its number for the card with that name. No memorization needed.
So, go write stories, and when you’re done, come and comment on my own list of stories with your results so we can all see them.
P.S. – Cards sometimes interact with each other in a spread. If you notice a somewhat sensual woman is facing with her gaze is directly on a king while a queen is staring at her back and she seems kind of angry, that sounds like someone is trying to seduce someone else’s man. If she is followed by the ace or ten of swords, well kids, it’s time to write a murder story. Hopefully with fairies, and lots of little old ladies.
Tarot For Writers And Skeptics * Why Tarot Speaks To Us * Grab A Deck * The Fool’s Journey * Elements And Alchemy * Numerology And The Tarot * Court Cards * Seeds For Stories * Tarot Story List