Weaving a Tapestry: a Creative Experiment

I’ve talked before about my Tapestry project–a series of stories and novels, each based on a different facet of the Tarot. I’ve also spoken at length of how it’s fallen apart. For a while I considered abandoning the project (a fate that this story has suffered many times in the past decade), but I kept on it, mostly thanks to this blog (which keeps me accountable) and the Indie Writer’s Community (which inspires me to no end). But the fact remains that the project, sadly, has ground to a halt.

So I decided to try something radical to inject some much needed life into the project, something I’ve never done before: a pre-determined plot.

But not like you’d think. I didn’t want to just take a tired trope or formula and churn out a “well made story;” I still wanted something creative and true to the structure of the greater Tapestry project. So I went back to the Tarot.

Tarot is a wonderful tool for a writer (whether you believe in it or not) because essentially, all it does is tell stories. You draw cards randomly and arrange them in a pattern, then read them in a certain order while relating the disparate meanings of each card. The simplest spread is done in three cards: past, present, future. Or, in terms of storytelling, beginning, middle and end.

A simple three card spread

A simple three card spread

I’ll give an overview of this reading as an example. The Priestess represents spiritual growth and intuition, a “lifting of the veil” to find something innate; the Knight of Wands is direct, full of forward momentum, and has a tendency to burn out for all that energy; the Ten of Wands is a symbol of a great project that’s been very successful–almost too much so, as it’s now become so large it can only be sustained through immense effort. If this were the plot of a story, it would be of a protagonist who has great ambitions but ignores their intuition in favour of quick (even reckless) action. The result is that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. There’s a further layer in Tarot; in this spread, the Knight is clearly turning away from the Priestess, but the figure in the last card is working his way toward her, with the Knight “standing guard” in his way. He knows the project is too large, and wants to get back to the “core” of things–but his exuberance and demand for results is preventing any real progress.

It’s the beginning of a fascinating story, which brings me to my point. I wanted to kick start my creativity, so I decided to write four short stories (each based on a different element, the backbone of the “world” of my stories). I drew five Tarot spreads, one more than I needed so I had some leeway. Each spread is intended to be a vague outline of a story, which I’d explore from there.

I was excited to try this; after all, the rest of the project is steeped in Tarot symbolism, and one part of it will follow the “Fool’s Journey” laid out in the Major Arcana–why not try to develop a story from a spread of cards? It appeals to me because each spread is random–unique–and because it would be a challenge to fit my world and themes into whatever came up.

But–there’s the rub.

Has this experiment worked? Yes and no. It’s certainly got me to thinking about my world and characters again, which is great. On the other hand, I find I’m trying to shoehorn that world and its characters into the spreads that come up. To a certain extent, it feels inauthentic. Part of that can be explained with last week’s post about plot vs concept. I’m not sure much will come out of it in terms of actual writing. If I can develop these plots into concepts and further into fully fledged stories, this will have worked. But only then.

In the meantime, it’s an interesting project. I want to continue toying with them; the spreads I came up with all have their own personalities and stories, as Tarot spreads always do. The thing I love most about Tarot is that it makes so much sense when you string everything together. These cards are based on archetypes that exist for a reason–they’re buried in our collective unconscious, as Jung would say–and the interplay of various archetypes is what writing and storytelling is all about. You don’t even need to believe in divination to get some benefit from this–just enjoy the art and the tales the cards tell.

But–for those of you who, like myself, believe that Tarot can enunciate things you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have otherwise, this spread in particular spoke to me. It’s a clear allegory of what I’ve been going through with my Tapestry project as a whole: I have a great idea that speaks to me, burst out of the gate with dozens of ideas I wanted to implement immediately–then watched as it fell under its own weight. Of course, it’s only one in the five I drew. It’s quite an interesting coincidence, I’d say–though there are those who don’t believe in coincidence…

For those that are interested, the deck I used here is the Gilded Tarot by Barbara Moore with art by Ciro Marchetti, which is available at Amazon and many other vendors. It’s become my “go-to” deck because it’s based on the Rider-Waite (the ‘seminal’ Tarot deck) but with much better artwork. If you’re interested in Tarot, this is a good deck to start with, though I’d recommend getting a separate book to help you learn the cards; the one included with the deck is helpful, but not as thorough as others.

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