Cocktails, Characters & Quirks

I love creating stories. One thing I loathe in my own writing, though, is characters who lack depth. They are cardboard cut-outs with no imperfections. These characters bore me to tears. What about you? If you were going to introduce them to your friends, what would you say?

“This is my heroine, Joie. She heals animals. She loves her godmother. She’s pretty.”

Yeah. I won’t want to hang out with her. She comes across as perfect, right? Nobody is perfect. At least not in my group of friends. I want my characters to be real not cardboard cutouts.

Now what about:

“This is my heroine Joie. She heals animals. She thinks she’s too short. She has a jealous streak a mile wide but she is a loyal friend.”

So she sounds far more real to me. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves. We have flaws as well as strengths. I think she is someone I could be friends with now. Moreso than the cardboard perfect Joie from before.

Okay, but how do you get those quirks? How do you develop a character who is 3-D…believable? One way that I do it is with a simple three card Tarot spread. Try this out for your next character and let me know the results.

Cocktail Spread

The premise is that you are going to a party with your character as your guest. You are going to have to do a short introduction when you get there. Draw three cards for the following positions.

Job
Personal Life
Quirk

Using the award-winning Ghosts And Spirits Tarot by Lisa Hunt (U.S. Games Systems, INC 2012) I drew the following cards for a different character:

  • My character’s job requires them to be a mentally focused warrior. He can’t let his guard drop ever. (King of Swords)
  • My character’s personal life has too many ties to his past so he really doesn’t like to talk about it. (5 of Cups)
  • His quirk is that he parties so he can be one of the guys but he really wants one of the guys. (4 of Cups)

So, from this, I realized my character is a gay soldier who has rejoined the military to get away from a bad relationship. 😀 It’s my story so I get to let my brain wander wherever it likes. King of Swords is a warrior. When I saw the 5 of Cups next, I immediately wondered about his past relationships. Why would he be a warrior with a broken heart. But the 4 of Cups showed me he had a bunch of regrets but ignored them by indulging in the drink too much.

Or, if I were going a more paranormal track, I might say that he was an eternal warrior(job) who was haunted by all the loves he’d lost(personal life). He avoids water because that is how the ghosts of his past connect to him(quirk). And there’s nothing worse than being nagged by a dead ex!

This is a good spread for the main characters and the villain.

So what are your cards? What is your take away? I’d love to hear what you think. You can use any deck. A deck of playing cards (look the meanings up online) can work as can any oracle deck.

This exercise is from a workshop I used to teach online. I’ve turned that month long Hero’s Journey (a Tarot for Writers workshop) into an eCourse. Now you can take advantage of all the lessons, handouts and writing prompts whenever you like. No more waiting for me to set up a workshop. It’s my secret weapon for NaNoWriMo.

Some great books are:

  1. Vogler, Christopher, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
  2. Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  3. Pearson, Carol, Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World

A more extensive bibliography comes with the eCourse.

If you like, I’ve got a video here. It is on YouTube but was on Periscope first. It’s not great quality video wise…it was my first one. 😀 I do a few exercises including this one. 😀

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, I’m there as TarotByArwen. I do it every year.

Please note that links included may be affiliate links which means I get a small monetary payment if you buy via them.

Originally posted in 2012. I've updated the post and republished.

Tarot & Food: Death & Shepard’s Pie

Mindfulness came in an unusual lesson for me. Death is what it took. Look, I don’t know about you, but when Death hits in my life, I need comfort food and I need it now. I don’t want to wait for a pie to bake or a roast to roast. I need something fast and hot and completely familiar to remind me that “this too shall pass.” Death is about hard, unyielding change and sometimes it is about physical loss.

What I need is my ultimate favorite comfort food, Shepard’s Pie. I almost always have the ingredients for it even when I am destitute. Let me share a story with you about the synchronicity of the pie that is the shepard’s. The one I now call Death Pie.

Back in the 90’s I lived in Lansing, MI on what can only be called the wrong side of the capital building. For those of you familiar with Lansing, I lived on Lahoma which was on the west side of the capital. Right. The side where you heard gunshots in the day, too.

My across-the-street-just-a-few-houses-down neighbors were Max and Bud. Max and Bud had been married forever and a week according to Maxine. Bud was one of those people you just never forget. He and Max had lived in that house on Lahoma street from when it was a good neighborhood through to the current incarnation of a drug and crime ridden slum.

And no one ever bothered them because they were the heart of the neighborhood. One night, my partner and I noticed an ambulance at their place. We didn’t worry too much because Bud had some heart problems so he occasionally had to make sudden trips to the ER.

The next morning we learned that Bud had died in his sleep. I was heartbroken. Max’s pain devastated me because I didn’t know what to do for her. So I did what any Southern woman would do. I turned to my fridge.

And realized I had nothing. T and I were living on someone else’s shoestrings–that’s how bad it was then. But I was determined to take them something so I dug out my last can of corn and my last roll of meat. Shepard’s pie wouldn’t have been my first choice for a dish to take to someone’s house like this, but it was my only option.

Max was at the funeral home when I walked over so I left the dish in the hands of another neighbor watching the house. I went home and cried for Max who had just lost her best friend. I cried for myself because I just felt so lost at the point. Realizing how broke we were and how far down in life I’d come really tore me up.

That night, Max came over. She didn’t come in. She just stood on my porch with this stunned look on her face and asked me, “How did you know?” When I asked her what she meant, a tear slipped down her softly wrinkled cheek.

“Last night before Bud went to bed, he asked me if I would make shepard’s pie for supper. I told him I would.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “You made him his shepard’s pie. Thank you.” She also told me that she felt Bud must have come across the street since he knew she’d be too busy with funeral arrangements. She gave me a quick hug. “Bud always did love you girls.”

Death had not just come calling at Bud and Max’s that night. It had come strolling across the street into my world. I am grateful that I was able to answer Bud’s desire for shepard’s pie. I am grateful that I was able to get past my own feelings of inadequacy to just make the dish and deliver it. I learned a lot of lessons on Lahoma street but this is one that really stuck with me.

Shepard’s pie will always make me think of death but also of how we need to take care of ourselves. Comfort foods take care of us. Whether it is by reminding us of our childhood or some point in our lives, food can reacquaint us with those memories. So here’s a recipe for something fast, something comforting, and something that reminds me to listen to my gut even when I am sad.

Shepard’s Pie

  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes, cooked
  • 2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 TBS butter
  • Salt,Pepper

Melt the butter. Saute the onion and garlic til the onions are translucent. Brown the hamburger meat in the same pan with the onions and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. I throw in some Tony’s Chachere’s. Drain the grease off.

Place the meat mixture in a deep oven-safe casserole dish. Put the corn in next. Sometimes I put the corn in first, then the meat. Put a cup of cheese on for the next layer. Now smooth the mashed potatoes over it like frosting. If you love potatoes, make more. Now put the rest of the cheese on top of the potatoes.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. I like the cheese all melty with bits of brown on the edges.

This is perfect for an evening meal where you throw together a salad and maybe some bread. Easy-peasy comfort food.

So what is your comfort food?

And are you doing NaNoWriMo? I am! I’m using 33 Days To Finish Your Book. What’s your secret weapon?