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.
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Otters, Pollyanna & Lucy Van Pelt

A lesson on where I was and where I am now. This involves otters, mirrors and unicorns pooping rainbows…

PollyannaSo if you are a regular reader here, you know I’m all about the joy. Back in 2005 or so, I started on what I jokingly called the Arwen Remodeling Project. People who have known me through the years will tell you I was a much different person back then.

  • Darker
  • Angrier
  • More inclined to bitterness
  • A bitch, really

I would happily engage in online battles. In fact, I was a proud member of both WitchWars and WitchWarsII where it was common to shred someone verbally. I gave as good as I got. I ganged up on people with others. I cut them down. I was praised for my cruelty, my sarcastic wit. I enjoyed it. Then something changed.

Lucy Van Pelt Not My FriendI can’t tell you what that was. I’m really not sure. I can’t pinpoint when I decided that the rage was not just making me a very unhappy, unpleasant woman. Worse. It was killing me. I realized I truly didn’t like myself. As in, I was not a woman I’d be friends with. I was Lucy Van Pelt. Ouch.

During that really dark time, I went through a lot. I not only broke up with a male partner but got stuck with a house that got repossessed. My mother died from cancer after a long battle. I went to a horrible place when I lost her. She was one of my best friends. I got into a relationship that fed my unhealthy behaviour. Again, I got complimented for being a really gross human being. I was doing poorly at a job I had excelled at (and been at for nearly five years.) I nosedived.

I went from dark, angry, bitter to far worse. I pulled away from my spiritual group and in fact self-sabotaged there as well. I was an amazingly talented self-saboteur. There are friends from that time that I have begun to rebuild friendships with but there are others who will never allow me that close again.

I don’t blame them. I was, as one friend put it, toxic. I poisoned nearly everything I was involved in.

Then, as they say, I hit rock-bottom. I remember it clearly. I was taking a two week break in Louisiana. My sister had given me free run of her guest house. I spent a lot of time there crying, journaling and reading Tarot. Tarot was like a life line for me at that point. I didn’t think my Gods had abandoned me. I knew I’d abandoned Them. I feared They wouldn’t want me back.

As hard as that two weeks was, I survived it. Even knowing I was going back to a crumbling marriage. Even knowing I was going back to quit my job. Even knowing I was going back to move out of my home and potentially losing my step-kids forever. I survived.

Why? I realized I had to change. Not for them. For me. I had to become someone I wanted to be with. Y’all, I had to like myself enough to fall in love with me again.

So I quit my job and got another one where I excelled. Still I wasn’t happy in Denver. I needed a change of scenery because the only person I saw in my mirror was that sad, tired, bitter woman struggling to become someone else. So I moved to Austin. I owe a debt of gratitude to a man named Conner that I will never ever be able to repay. He’s my hero because he gave me a way out.

When I got there, there was a person that I greatly admired and even loved. I wanted to be just like her. Then we had a falling out. I found out that her outside did not match her inside. I nearly fell apart again. I thought about moving–running away. My sister challenged me to stick it out. Others did too. Thank you to everyone who did.

Instead of running, I adopted a saying from my sister.

I can only control what is in my hula hoop.

I also realized that the person I had so wanted to emulate was like I used to be. Candy on the outside. Shitty on the inside. I set up boundaries to make sure I kept her as far away as possible. And, yes, it hurt.

Doesn’t it always hurt when you find out that someone you’ve so admired has been trashing you behind your back? Sadly, it wasn’t only me that this happened to. I practiced focusing joy on her then. My friends began to see why I’d distanced myself from her. They have done the same in the following years. It was hard damned work. Still is as even after all these years, I sometimes check in on her public self to see how she is. It’s like picking at an old scab.

Three of Water Gaian Tarot Joanna Powell ColbertDuring that time with her, I blurted out on Twitter, “Seek joy, y’all.” And it stuck. So she gave me something invaluable actually. That’s become my thing. My motto. I even have a pendant with that on it. The pendant features the 3 of Water from the Gaian Tarot. In this card, there are two otters on top who are kicked back. They are enjoying the sun, the water, the food. But the third otter is the one I identify with. He or she is diving into the water beneath the other two. Her whiskers are slicked back from the water sluicing along her nose as she seeks her joy.

That otter is me now.

I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to transition from that other woman to this one. The hours of therapy, writing, crying, talking it out with friends are immeasurable. The value of all of that sustains me even now. So when I get comments like this from people I respect and admire…it means so much to me.

You are inspiring me in a bigger way than you can ever know. I have adapted your philosophy. Thank you.

I responded with

You can’t imagine how happy this makes me. Thank you. I am grateful to have your reflection in my joy mirror.

Pretty Handheld Mirror

Each of you reading this are in my joy mirror. Now whether that is as a reminder or a lesson? That’s up to you. Seeking joy is not easy. It’s a struggle many days. I have to verbally remind myself. I have to smack myself upside my own head when I wake up cranky. Sometimes I wish I could just stop seeking joy for a bit. Some days I fail miserably at being happy.

But you know what? When I look in the mirror, I like who I see. I’m in love with the woman I see. That keeps me on the straight and joyful. Even when I fall off the joy wagon, I know it’s far better to make the hard climb back up. Laying in the bitter gutter is no longer an option.

Seek joy, Y’all. Always. Especially on the “woke up late, everyone is driving slow intentionally, hungry, need more coffee, the whole world is stupid” days. Especially on those days.

So if you think I’m being a rose-colored glasses-wearing Pollyanna who poops rainbows and farts unicorns?

You’re right. 🙂Rainbow My Pretty Pony Unicorn

And I invite you to join me on that journey. It’s been six years since I wrote the above post. I’ve moved out of Austin, TX. I still come back to this post routinely. It’s still as urgent to me to seek joy today as it was then. I do thank all those who taught me (positively or negatively) how to be a better joy seeker. I take other people on Joy Journeys and help them re-calibrate their joy. I consider it my joy to help others bring joy back into focus in their lives. Let’s get you started today.

(updated 1/7/2017 from the original 06/25/2011 edition)

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