This is a guest post by author Elizabeth Delisi

Elizabeth Delisi is an award-winning author of romance, mystery and suspense, with a touch of the paranormal. She has been an avid reader all her life, and wrote her first story in first grade. She has written novels, short story collections, how-to articles, and has worked as a reporter, columnist, and writing instructor. When she’s not writing, Elizabeth loves to read, of course. She also enjoys working with tarot cards, knitting and weaving, and watching old movies. She collects tarot decks, and antique compacts. Elizabeth lives in New Hampshire with her amazing husband Dan, her loyal rat terrier Gypsy, and her talkative budgie Captain Jack Sparrow.


By Elizabeth Delisi


Reading and interpreting tarot cards has been a steady interest for me for years. It’s associated with several of my books, including the Lottie Baldwin Mystery Series, which features a psychic who uses the tarot to solve mysteries. All the Lottie Baldwin mysteries include the tarot, and I commissioned a deck of tarot cards for the series:

As I became more comfortable with tarot, I realized I could use the cards to be part of the story line, and also to develop that story line, plot and characters. So, how can you use tarot to develop a story? Here’s how I do it.

Through the years, tarot cards were rumored to be evil and many people feared them, thinking they represented the Devil. But the tarot is simply a deck of seventy-eight cards with pictures on them that can be used to tap into your unconscious, to draw conclusions from the cards based on your own unique background. You invest the cards with meaning, and that meaning is true for you alone. There are fairly standard meanings associated with each card, but individuals are encouraged to look deeper, to trust their instincts and use the meaning that “feels” right.

So, how do you use tarot for writing? First, you need to choose a deck. I recommend you visit Aeclectic Tarot at  There are hundreds of decks to choose from, so take your time looking at all the gorgeous decks. One tip: don’t buy a deck that has “pip” cards for the Minor Arcana; i.e., the Minor Arcana cards simply picture four swords or seven cups. These decks require the reader to memorize the meanings of those cards, since it’s not evident from the artwork. I also suggest you don’t purchase a deck with the meanings printed on the cards. You want to let your subconscious have free reign in the interpretation of the cards.

Take time to become familiar with your deck. Try to imagine what each card means. For instance, the Three of Swords often shows a heart pierced with three swords, surrounded by rain and storms. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine this card may mean a broken heart. But is that what it means to you? What else might it mean?

Once you’re familiar with your cards, it’s time to use the deck for practice readings. One good way is to choose a daily card to represent the happenings or emotions of the upcoming day, and to record the card and your interpretation of it in a journal. At the end of the day, record whether you feel the card interpretation accurately portrayed your day, and why or why not. As time passes, you’ll find your interpretations become more accurate.

Another practice reading to try is a Past/Present/Future reading. Take an issue you’re concerned about. Shuffle your deck and lay out three cards in a row, left to right. The first card represents the past, the background of the situation; the middle card represents the present, the current situation you find yourself in; and the last card represents the future of your situation. Also, when you’re doing a reading, you can add an extra card to a particular position if you want to shed more light on that subject.

Now that you’re comfortable reading the cards, it’s time to work on your story. One of the more interesting ways you can use the tarot is to develop a character.

It’s best to have a few facts already in mind about your character, such as whether the character is male or female, hero or villain, young or old. With this brief idea of the character in mind, shuffle the cards and cut the deck. Turn over the top card, and use your interpretation of the card as the main personality trait of your newly-created character.

Suppose I want to learn more about my heroine, a young woman in her twenties. I shuffle the cards, cut the deck, and turn over the Two of Swords. This shows a blindfolded young woman sitting on a stool, holding two swords crossed over her chest. I interpret this card to mean my character is indecisive, refusing to accept the truth and look at the facts. She is denying her true feelings, and thus she’s at an emotional impasse. She has the tools in hand she needs to cut through this murkiness, but she refuses to admit she has them, much less use them.

Now I have something that can be the basis of the conflict for the book. But this is hardly enough. What is my heroine refusing to accept? What’s the basis of her indecisiveness? I shuffle again and turn over another card. This time I draw The Lovers. Ah; my heroine is afraid of love. The thought of a committed, one-to-one-forever relationship scares her silly. But why does she feel this way?

The next card I draw is the Ten of Swords. This card depicts a man lying face-down on the ground, ten swords thrust into his back. My heroine has been betrayed by a man before; she’s been stabbed in the back. Someone has won her heart, then dumped her and left her for someone else.

Who has done this to her? I turn over another card and get the Knight of Cups. This indicates the young man who broke my heroine’s heart was fanciful, temperamental and moody. He was unable to face unpleasantness, and when the going got tough, he bowed out. The minute a bit of conflict came up, he was out the door and moving on to his next conquest.

So, this gives me a good idea of my heroine’s main character traits and her difficulties that will tie into the plot of my story.

The example above relies on a single card to answer a single question. You might also turn over three cards in a row, representing the past or history of the main plot problem; the present situation; and the future or possible outcome. You could do a six-card spread, where you choose which six areas of your character you wish to focus on, and turn over one card for each. For example, you might pick family, love life, health, career, financial situation, and fears. The card you draw for each will shed light on that particular area. You can turn over additional cards to shed light on a particular area if you wish.

Now that you’ve had a little experience with your chosen tarot deck, interpreting the cards, and developing characters, you’re ready to start using the tarot to work on your plot.

This may feel more difficult, because instead of asking questions about yourself and situations you’re familiar with, or a character that already has a shadowy reality in your mind, you’re starting with a blank slate. Be prepared to give it a little practice, and don’t worry if the first reading you do or first idea you come up with doesn’t pan out.

As before, you can invent your own spread for this exercise. I’ve fooled around with creating a spread on paper, and here’s what I came up with for myself:

X    X    X    X  – Row 4

X   X   X   – Row 3

X   X   – Row 2

X   – Row 1

So basically, it’s an upside down pyramid. Row 1 represents the background of the story. Row 2 represents the major plot line(s). Row 3 represents sub-plots and/or setbacks the characters will face. Row 4 represents the climax and the ending.

You can try my spread if you want to, or you can create one of your own. Just be sure you know in your own mind what each card position represents before you deal the cards.

First, choose the genre of the story you’re coming up with a plot for. That’s crucial, because the cards can be interpreted many ways, and you want your interpretation to mesh with your chosen genre. I’m going to do my exercise for a romantic suspense novel.

Here’s what I drew:

Row 1: Queen of Pentacles

Row 2: King of Pentacles, Nine of Swords

Row 3: Two of Cups, Ten of Wands, Page of Wands

Row 4: Ten of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles, The Magician, Queen of Swords

And here’s how I interpret the spread:

Row 1: Background. My main character is a loving, generous, down-to-earth type. She’s always there for her friends, her family, her nieces and nephews, pets. You name it, she’s there. Perhaps she has neglected her own needs from “being there” for everyone else. But she’s a big-hearted girl and she would never put herself first.

Row 2: Into her life comes a man. He’s a terrific businessman, can take any enterprise and make it successful. He too is a giver, but he’s shrewd. He doesn’t let anyone take advantage of him.

The main character has run into some difficulty in her own life. Financial trouble, I’m thinking, since this reading has so many Pentacles cards. Maybe she’s lost her job, her employer says it’s because she’s taken so much time off work to help others. While she’s always there for others, they are most definitely NOT there for her with a dollar or two in her time of need. She has nightmares about losing her home. And then the phone calls start…people who call her in the middle of the night, and hang up when she answers. She gets threatening letters. Her whole life is becoming a nightmare, and she doesn’t know why.

She goes to the hero for help. At first he doesn’t want to help her, he feels she’s just using him and he’s wary of being used. But eventually he comes to believe she’s sincere and they investigate just what’s going on…

Row 3: What starts out as a partnership blossoms into a romance as they work together. They struggle to solve the mystery of who’s after her. Is it connected to her firing? Or maybe to one of the people she’s helped, who turned her down when she was the needy one? They feel they’re taking one step forward and two back. They’ve been looking at it all wrong. Nothing is as it seems.

Row 4: They pursue the bad guy, nearly getting killed a time or two. They finally discover she was fired because one of those people she helped is blackmailing her former employer about shady business practices he’s uncovered, and her employer thought she was in on it, so he fired her. Meanwhile, the blackmailer thought she was in on the shady business practices, and figured he could scare her into coughing up some blackmail money, too. Using the force of her personality, using emotional strength she never knew she had, she manages to talk the bad guy down long enough for the hero to capture him.

She and the hero end up together in a permanent, lasting relationship they can build happy lives on. And what has she learned? To not take things at face value; to face the truth, even if it’s unpleasant; to size up a person and uncover their hidden motives before buying into what they say.

It’s rough, but it’s the beginning of a story. If I want more details, I can lay out more cards for an in-depth look at any part of this. Then, since I’m an outliner, I’d start a detailed outline based on the reading. For those who don’t outline, you can jump in and start writing.

This is one way the tarot can help you develop your plot and characters. All you need is a deck you connect with, belief in yourself, and practice!

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