Some months ago, a friend on Facebook provided an extraordinary link.
The main link was to Kickstarter. It’s an awesome place where people with ideas (of the creative type) can present those ideas to people who can choose to back their projects. It’s like a Mecca for artist entrepreneurs. (And a place I want to patronize, once I have some disposable income again). Typically, the proposer offers something in exchange for the initial backing—the product, once it’s completed, usually.
The specific thing I looked at on Kickstarter were the Story Forge Cards (they have since been fully funded; they will be in production in July 2012). You basically have something which looks like a cross between a tarot deck and Richard Simmon’s Deal-A-Meal.
You shuffle the cards and lay them out in a spread. There are various spreads for various types of stories. The position of the card in the spread tells you what its contents apply to (whether it be to a main character, secondary character, plot, etc.), and its contents are adjectives like cruel, unhappy, bright future, beautiful, daddy issues–you get the picture.
(That’s a simplified description; if you want to see them in action, watch the video.)
If you are a writer, the benefit is obvious: you will never suffer from writer’s block again. When you want to write something, you simply do a spread and write up whatever the cards suggest to your imaginative brain.
I really want these cards. Curse my poverty! Curse the fact that there is no gift-getting holiday for me between July and October!
But, I am not one to let something like a lack of money stop me from having something awesome. So I resorted to that old stand-by: make it myself.
Through hours of painstaking copying, pasting, and inserting Microsoft clip art–not to mention cutting and taping in real life–I made myself an entire tarot deck.
Now, you might ask, “Are you so poor you can’t afford a secondhand tarot deck from a used bookstore?” No, I’m not that poor, but tarot decks are so often about being pretty that they’re not practical. I don’t care about pretty when it comes to working; I want practical. So, aside from a small piece of clip art which quickly identifies the card, everything else on the card is text. I don’t have to memorize what the nine of cups, reversed, means; I don’t have to look it up in a book; its meaning is right there on the card. Move on to the next card, please.
The cards tend to separate well into cards for characters (the major arcana and the face cards from the minor arcana) and themes either for the characters or the plot (the minor arcana pip cards). If you already have a story started, but it’s stalling out, you can draw a card from one of these two divisions and then apply it to the plot or characters you already have.
If you don’t like what you’ve got, you can reverse the card (which usually gives you the opposite condition, although sometimes it’s a weaker or stronger manifestation of what you already have), or just draw another one. The purpose is not to let the cards write the entire story from beginning to end; the purpose is to give you an idea that you can roll with.
Does it work? Yes. I have just finished writing a contemporary romance story (it started out as a short story, but it morphed into a short novella) using my deck.
I only pulled three cards. The first, Death, reversed, was intended for my main character, and it suggested a person stuck in the past and/or mired in grief.
The next card was for the plot–the 9 of Swords, reversed. It foretold an end of suffering and coming back to reality. It also suggested that the past involved warfare or arguments.
The third card was intended for my secondary character. It was the King of Cups, and it suggested a man that was empathetic, alluring, and highly artistic.
I don’t think I could have gotten a more harmonious set of cards if I had picked them out intentionally.
From those I ended up with the story, “The Widow.” My main character, Carol, is still in mourning over her husband, who was killed in Afghanistan two years ago (there’s the warfare in the past). She is living a reclusive life, not leaving the house any more than she has to and not socializing with friends. Her friend, Bonnie, finally lures her out of the house with a gift of creative writing classes at the local college. On her first night there, she runs into (literally) the painting instructor. The next week he almost plows into her again, and, laughing about it, he invites her to get some coffee.
It turns out that Daniel is actually a locally well-known artist, and he and Carol begin meeting every week after class to discuss art and creative endeavors in general. It is on one of these evenings that Daniel becomes inspired to paint Carol. When their class term is over, she begins to model for him, and he taps into her grief to create a 1920’s Impressionist portrait which he entitles “The Widow.” But, in the process of working with him, Carol begins to heal and return to normalcy.
(I am in the process of getting some proofreaders for “The Widow” and hope to have it up for sale by the end of May.)
Besides using tarot cards, you can also use these 1936-edition Deal-A-Plot cards (warning: mega file download). They also help plot out a story, although they are much more specific than tarot cards or the Story Forge cards. For some people, that will be a blessing, but for other people, that will be too constraining–especially in light of the dated descriptions for people. I suppose Hagrid could qualify as a cockney, but he’s the only one I’ve seen in a story since about 1936.
So, there’s a writing exercise for everyone: print out the 1936 cards and give them a try. I am currently working on a new short story suggested by them, and I think it’s going to turn out pretty good. We shall see next month.