“As a writer, you already know what it’s like to hold the power of creation in your hands. With a few strokes of a pen, you can forge a universe or start a galaxy spinning in space. You can mold brave new worlds and planets, complete with mountains, plains, and seas. You can even establish nations and cities, and populate them with culture and history. Like a living god, you can determine the future of an alternate reality. When you hold a tarot deck in your hands, you have an additional tool at your disposal—on that can make your job as a creator infinitely more rewarding.” – From Tarot for Writers One of the go-to authors for making the cards incredibly accessible, lively Tarot author Corrine Kenner focuses her sparkling wit and breadth of knowledge on equipping writers with a handy tool for their creative endeavors in her newest book, Tarot for Writers. From mapping out the Hero’s Journey with Tarot to producing character profiles, busting through writer’s block to constructing that all-important first line, Tarot for Writers serves as both an introductory lesson in fiction writing and a first-rate primer on the cards, especially since Kenner provides detailed information on all 78 cards in the second half of this 358-page book. With literally hundreds of practice exercises, writing prompts, and helpful lists accompanied by black-and-white card images, Tarot for Writers is the only book on the market showing how the mysterious imagery and symbolism of the cards can be applied to conflict (inciting and resolution), characterization, dialogue, description, metaphor, pacing, scenery, introducing unpredictable elements and so much more.
In fact, one of my favorite tips in this book (in the section on breaking writer’s block) is where Kenner suggests writing an impromptu story based on a card’s title or keyword. She writes “Feel free to play: you don’t have to take them seriously. Perhaps when you see ‘Stagnation’, it’s time to send your character to a bar called ‘Stag Nation’.”
I also loved the prompts from the Eight of Cups card, especially the last one:
Write about: • a pilgrimage • a return from a hunt • a shepherd • a scavenger hunt • ….or take a break from writing and go for a walk
As a writer, that’s a great piece of advice! Many of my breakthroughs come while on the treadmill or spending time outdoors.
Another neat writing practice, Fill in the Blanks, encourages writers to imagine the responses a character might have to simple, fill-in-the-blank prompts, such as “I am _____. You would never guess it by looking at me, but _____” and “I am _____, and I always say _____”.
Using card imagery from the Universal Tarot by Roberto DeAngelis (Lo Scarabeo), owning an actual Tarot deck isn’t required for using Tarot for Writers, which is fantastic. However, Kenner provides enough tips and prompts to show writers how to cull similar inspiration from virtually any Tarot deck on the market (provided the Minor Arcana contains animation of some sort—people, action, scenery, and so on). There are a few sticking points with this book, however. For one, Kenner sends writers through the whole “make a sacred space by dispelling negative energy with sage” spiel, including laying out a spread cloth, cleansing, centering meditation, grounding visualization, and so on. Personally, I feel this is highly inappropriate because not all writers are spiritually inclined, wanting only to use the cards as a practical tool for enhancing the writing experience. (Yes, I realize Tarot for Writers is categorized in Body, Mind & Spirit, not Reference, but still…)
Also, Kenner does a great disservice to writers completely new to Tarot by not providing a list decks with imagery that would be appropriate to use with her exercises. As many of us familiar with Tarot darn well know, trying to find a Tarot deck as a newbie can be incredibly overwhelming. And, if a writer is shopping in a brick-and-mortar store—which often doesn’t have opened Tarot decks for perusal—how would they know if a particular deck has an illustrated Minor Arcana as she recommends (especially since many Tarot boxes, even box sets, conveniently leave off pictures of the Minors)?
And a Bibliography, showing the books that Kenner referenced when writing? Non-existent. Um, sorry, but no matter how knowledgeable a Tarot author might be, no one has everything memorized to the point of instant recall, especially historical facts, writing theory, traditional symbolism, etc. To her credit, Kenner sometimes says, “Waite says this card...” (This isn’t an isolated incident, though. I’ve seen quite a few reference books spanning various publishers that don’t seem to require a Bibliography, which I find inexplicable and exasperating).
Additionally, it would have been nice if Kenner listed some additional books for further reading, both on writing in general (such as excellent Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron), as well as Tarot—especially ones that are more intuitively oriented. (And, as usual with Llewellyn, there are some glaring editorial mistakes in the book that the proofreaders missed--one major one on page 12 that repeats Cups for the Pentacles description—as well as overuse of some phrases, e.g. “dovetail perfectly” used three times before Page 3!). Having said that, Tarot for Writers is still a valuable resource for aspiring and established writers and would benefit from clever prompts, innovative exercises, and brainstorming techniques for story ideas. I found Tarot for Writers an exciting read; in fact, it inspired me to begin a novel (in conjunction with another new book I’m reading, The Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes)! The exercises and examples Kenner provides are engaging, clear and stimulating. Even experienced Tarotists will learn a thing or two from Kenner’s ideas, advice and writing samples. As one who wants to flex her fictional writing muscles (er, maybe I need to begin building those muscles first!), I notice that I’m carrying around Tarot for Writers quite a bit these last few weeks. (I think it’s visited every space in my twelve room house, actually!) Do consider putting Tarot for Writers on your desk, too. I think you’ll consider it one of the best investments you can make whether writing for pleasure or as a professional.
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