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Posts Tagged ‘craft of writing’

Ah, the Tarot. Images from movies and TV and books, of a Bohemian or mystical individual, laying

Robin Wood Tarot, magician

Robin Wood Tarot, Magician

cards out in an arcane pattern, telling us how our lives will progress, whether we will find love or win the lottery.

There’s both more and less to the Tarot than that; basically, it’s a series of cards with artwork depicting images of archetypes. Which is, of course, why they’re popular, and why they seem to apply to everyone’s lives. We won’t get into how, why, or whether the cards work on a personal level, though; we’re going to examine how Tarot can be used in fiction writing.

Because the Tarot are archetypal, they depict issues, traits and situations that are nearly universal.

Rider Waite Tarot, Fool

Take the Fool, for instance. The card shows a young man without a care in the world, with his head in the clouds, totally unaware that he’s about to step off of a cliff, and unheeding of the dog yapping about his feet, trying to warn him of his danger.

Who hasn’t been in this situation? We’ve all had moments of youthful foolishness, not knowing or not caring that there’s danger at our feet. Rather, we’ve been too wrapped up in the idea of adventure or love to notice any warnings the people and the world around us have given.

Each card of the Tarot is like this: each depicts a universal character, trait or situation. In fact, one view of the Tarot is that it is an outline of the Hero’s Journey, beginning with the Fool as the Call to Adventure, and ending with the World as the Hero’s Return. As such, the Tarot makes a very handy tool for writers. It can help generate material, or it can help flesh out existing stories.

Try this today: go to a free Tarot reading website, such as Facade, and choose a one-card reading. Read what the card means, and write. Let the card be a springboard for a warm-up or for a new story, and freewrite for ten minutes or so.

Soon to come: Using the Tarot to create characters.

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One of the best ways for a fiction writer to build up a portfolio and land the all-important agent is to write and publish short stories; a history of published material proves to your potential agent that you’re committed, that markets have found your work to be of value, and that you can follow through. But if you’re a novel writer by inclination or by practice, writing shorter material can present quite a challenge. How does one go about writing a tight, effective short story?

1. Know what you want to say. What is your story about? I don’t mean plot; what is the theme, or the main point of your story? What does your character learn? Knowing this in advance can help you keep from digressing down entertaining, but ultimately ineffective, paths.

2. Know your conflict. Before you sit down to write the text of your story, it’s good to know the main problem the protagonist has to solve to reach the end. Not knowing this can cause all sorts if diversions and wandering about.

3. One story, one plot. There isn’t room in a short story for much in the way of a subplot. Most effective short stories focus on only one conflict.

4. One story, one protagonist. Just as there isn’t room in short fiction for more than one conflict, there usually isn’t room for more than one main character. Your character can have friends and enemies, of course, but they usually serve as foils, as sounding-boards, as help, etc. for your main character.

5. Watch the time. Most short stories cover very short periods of time. If your conflict needs more than a couple of days to reach its resolution, chances are that you’ve got a novel on your hands, rather than a shorter piece.

6. Start at the last minute. No, I don’t mean that you should procrastinate. Start your story as close to the end as possible. Don’t waste time, space or words on a lot of backstory or setup; rather, dive headfirst into the conflict, as close to the climax as you possibly can.

7. Write in one sitting. If you write the first draft of your story in one straight shot, rather than in chunks, you’re less likely to overthink your story and wander away on one of those interesting digressions I mentioned earlier. Writing it all at once can also keep the energy of the story high, and the tone and voice consistent.

8. Have a plan. Lots of writers don’t like making outlines–I’m one of them. But when I sit down to write a short story, I need to at least know how the story will end; this keeps the story moving forward on a straight path, without wordy digressions.

9. Be merciless. The short story form, in my opinion, sharpens conflict because there is so little room for all of the events on the sidelines which can soften it. Take advantage of the form; pull no punches. Don’t waste verbage on being nice to your character.

10. Edit mercilessly. Just as there is no room in the short story for digressions, there is no room for padding. Anything that does not further your plot should be thrown away. Save those lovely descriptions of the summer’s day for something else, unless they give some crucial piece of information or tone to your reader. If something is not vital to your story, it weakens it.

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