Teneice Durrant, creator of Tarot with Ten, will use various tarot and oracle decks to provide monthly readings for writers, with exercises on using imagery and intuition as prompts. May’s prompt concerns a story’s rising action.
Elements of a rising action
To recap what we’ve learned so far through the use of tarot as visual writing prompts: We spent the first three months of 2023 developing our protagonist, love interest, and antagonist. In April, we started looking at how to build a narrative arc—encompassed in six essential points—by creating inciting incidents.
This month, we are going to get some ideas for the obstacles our main character will face on the way to their ultimate goal. We’ll do this by building the “rising action” in our narrative arc.
The rising action is the chunk of the book where we find out what our main character is made of, where they learn, fail, succeed, and develop into the person they need to be to accomplish the goal they set out to achieve. Facilitating this development is generally some kind of loss, or almost-loss. Maybe a near-death experience, or an actual death of a character that meant a lot to the main character. In the novel (and movie) Casino Royale, we can see this when Bond loses all of his money and is out of the poker game, but Felix sweeps in and stakes him the money to keep playing.
Below, I’ll use the cards to develop three obstacles your character could confront. How it changes them or what they learn is up to you!
Nine of Wands
As always, these images are from the Rider Waite tarot deck, via Pixabay (Creative Commons license), and you can flip through all cards from this reading here:
The Nine of Wands is a card of holding out just a little bit longer. The person on the card is injured and weary, but still defending their King. I imagine this person as a gatekeeper. The main character needs to get into the space that this person is defending, but the gatekeeper is worn out and not listening to any request or plea for compassion. The main character does not have what is necessary (money, connections, pedigree, etc.) to be let inside.
Five of Pentacles
The Five of Pentacles shows two people outside a church. They are injured and hungry, but too proud to ask for help. The sanctuary that they need is just inside the church; all they have to do is knock. But they are too stubborn and full of pride. In truth, the only ones they are hurting are themselves. With this obstacle, the main character would be struggling with their own pride and limited knowledge. They don’t want to ask for help, even though they are struggling, because they think it will show weakness.
Three of Swords
Three of Swords is generally the card of betrayal. While many read this as being backstabbed or cheated on, I also see it as a self-sabotage. Perhaps the main character trusts someone they know they shouldn’t, but can’t help it. Maybe they don’t tell the truth about their plans and lose the support of their friends. Perhaps they are showing off after a small win and get robbed or kidnapped. It’s possible that it could be an imagined betrayal as well. Maybe they think their partner is betraying them and it causes conflict. There are many options with this obstacle.
A writing exercise
Choose one of the cards or conflict scenarios above to explore as way of creating your main character’s rising action. Is there a gatekeeper blocking your main character from their goal? Is your MC experiencing an internal struggle with their own pride, or an external one in the form of a betrayal by another character? You could also explore ways to combine one or more of these conflict scenarios. The whole purpose of these obstacles is to reveal or grow the main character into the person they need to be to achieve their goal.
I hope these cards trigger a bunch of ideas for obstacles in your story. Happy writing.
Until next month, here’s how to find me outside of the Center:
YouTube Tarot with Ten
What did you think of this tarot reading and the cards as visual prompts for story development? Share with us in the comments, and contact us if you’re interested in working one-on-one with Teneice in writing with tarot.
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