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Take a Fresh Approach to Plotting and Get Amazing Results: Plot Your Next Book Using The Hero’s Journey and Tarot Cards

by Patricia Simpson - 2011

Authors often get caught in a rut of character and plot. It’s natural. There are certain themes and character types that live in an author’s psyche. Some writers can base every story on the same type of hero and write wonderful books. More often than not, however, the same old theme and character grows stale for the author as well as her readers.

After writing numerous books and realizing that I often used the same theme and plot, I decided to open myself up to a different way of writing a story. To mix it up, I used Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey as a guide, with each step in the journey defined by the draw of a tarot card.

Start with the kernel of an idea

At this point, all I knew about my story was the following:
Title: The Last Oracle
Hero: Max, a rich adventurer like Richard Branson
Heroine: Amara, an oracle who has escaped her master
Theme: Freedom without love is no life at all. (A theme is very important!)
Tagline: She wants to experience free love. He knows nothing in life is free.

Choose an appropriate tarot deck

There are many different decks of tarot cards with images ranging from serious and frightening to lighthearted and whimsical. Choose the deck that suits the mood, genre and/or setting of your book. The novel I was developing was the third book in The Forbidden Tarot series. This series contains Egyptian history and motifs, so I used an Egyptian-inspired tarot deck, called the Ibis Tarot. The images on the tarot cards not only fired the plot, they also sparked my imagination with colors, mood, and mysterious objects that I might not otherwise have thought to include in my book.

Identify the character that will be the subject of the reading

Since the hero was in the forefront of my thoughts when developing the story, I used him as the subject of my tarot reading. In the actual writing of the book, my POV (point of view) character was primarily Amara, the Oracle of Avaris. But the plot I developed during the reading could still be used, as the hero’s issues and journey deeply affected both hero and heroine.

Flesh out the steps of the Hero’s Journey during the reading

Listed below are the first few steps of the classic Hero’s Journey and how I applied the tarot cards to each step. Click this link for all the steps of the journey and a form you can fill out for your own reading.

Part I: Departure

1. The Call to Adventure
The call to adventure is the point in a person's life when everything is about to change, whether they know it or not.
Tarot Card: 3 of cups
Meaning: Abundance of food, fun, riches and love. A healing to come.
How affects hero: Max Griffin, a millionaire who has everything, is asked by the Oracle to cancel his record-breaking balloon voyage to save a dying man.

2. Refusal of the Call
Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
Tarot card: The Crown of the Magicians
Meaning: Completion, reward, assured success. Travel.
How affects hero: He doesn’t want to stop. He is about to go down in history, just like his father. He doesn’t have time for people and their problems. He is also terrified of caring about a person again, and he senses the Oracle could really get under his skin.

3. Supernatural Aid – The Crucible
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
Tarot card: The Two Urns
Meaning: Good management, fruitful connection. Past coming into the future.
How affects hero: Robert Lambers, father of Rae Lambers from The Dark Lord (the first book in The Forbidden Tarot series), has helped the Oracle escape. Everyone thought Robert died. But he has been a pupil/prisoner of Set for 30 years. He knows that Set has plans to destroy the world.

Part II: Initiation…

Part III: The Return…

The Outcome

To my surprise, the finished version of the book did not stray much from the initial structure provided by the Hero’s Journey and the tarot cards. The journey gave me a good framework for the book and the cards provided new ideas and approaches, as well as a fresh character type for a heroine I don’t generally write—that of an “Earth Mother” type. She was a refreshing change for me, and I hope for my readers.

I would definitely use this tactic again.

Patricia Simpson is an award-winning author of paranormal romance. Find The Last Oracle and the rest of the books in The Forbidden Tarot series at

© 2011 Patricia Simpson. Illustration from the Ibis Tarot © Josef Machynka.