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.

Personal Life

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 . 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 .

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.

9 thoughts on “Cocktails, Characters & Quirks”

  1. How interesting! That certainly creates unusual and compelling characters! Do you start with your characters adn then wait for a storyline to perculate up? Or do you have an idea for a storyline first and then creat the characters to people it?

    Ali x

  2. I will not be doing it this time, but I recommend Arwen’s Tarot for writers class to anybody who thinks they might be interested and who can fit it into their schedule. Whether you’re a newcomer to using the Tarot as a writing tool or an experienced hand, you will pick up something you can use.

    So, Arwen, how’s the book going? I remember some time ago you were talking about putting all this Tarot-for-writers stuff together in a book. Is that still in the works?

  3. I absolutely love your 33 days to my novel. But, I am stumbling on my character creation/motivation. One of my frustrations is not having the exact right tarot set – I think. I originally had no sets with the Major Arcana. So I found a “learner” set but it is a Waite set by Jane Lyle. It is old school and hard to relate to. I picked up another of my sets about Heart’s Desire to help with the more mundane development. I just received the Witch’s Tarot Deck and I have some hopes that I can relate better to the imagery etc. As a follower of Archetypes (taken courses and studied my own character). Do you have any suggestions?

      1. Of course, I have been looking everywhere I go for the Gaian deck, but nowhere has one in stock. I wanted to pick it up and “feel” the energy before purchasing, but love the images. I think I may just jump in and get a deck. Unfortunately the kicks me to for my purchase (being Canadian and all, lol). Will you till get credit to your links?

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