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. September’s prompt aims to help you write an effective flashback.
Writing a flashback scene with tarot
A flashback is a scene set earlier in time than the story being told. It interrupts the chronology of a story and shows the reader something that happened in the past.
Flashbacks can be a way to reveal something about the main character without saying it outright. Through a flashback, we might learn about a childhood accident, a stranger’s kindness, or a sudden loss. A flashback can be a memory from 20 years ago or last week. The tricky part about them is capturing the main character’s perspective. For starters, they are older (even if just by a few days), and they might know things now that they didn’t know then. The flashback also must be relevant to the protagonist's development, either within the internal or external conflict.
Finally, flashbacks are different than daydreams and are triggered by something happening in the protagonist's world; it’s important to remember that the transition into and out of a flashback needs to make that trigger apparent. It should be evident to the reader—either immediately or later in the story—why the protagonist is remembering this (the flashback context) now.
So, let’s pull a few Tarot cards and develop a flashback scene.
What triggers the flashback?
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:
Well, this is a little on the nose. A literal death may trigger this memory, but the tarot is hardly ever literal. The Death card represents transitions, matter moving from one state to another. It could mean the death of a friendship, the end of a way of life, or transcending a mental state from depression to hope.
What is the mental or emotional state of the character when the memory originally happens?
The King of Swords
This king is the tactician, the one who plays 4D chess and is three steps ahead of the opponent. There’s no room for feelings, no room for mercy. On the positive side, he is the epitome of integrity and honesty.
What does the protagonist learn about themselves?
The Seven of Wands
This is a card of drawing boundaries and staking out the higher ground. A battle has been won, and though the war is not over, the soldier has stood their ground and overcome the immediate challenge.
A writing exercise
As always, begin with the literal descriptions of the cards. Describe the objects, the colors, the people.
Then write down any associations you make to the objects. Just write down the first things that come to mind. For example, when I pulled the King of Swords, my immediate association was cutting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in half with a knife. Will that matter in my scene? Who knows? But it might get me to a consideration of the main character’s attitude towards food. Maybe the Death card makes you anxious, or the phrase “drawing boundaries” makes you think of a recent podcast episode about toxic relationships. These associations are doors you might open to learn more about yourself or invent more about your characters.
So describe the cards, record your mental or emotional associations with them, and see where it takes you—both forward and (flashing) backward.
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 part 3 of Writing Toward Balance and Wholeness: Tarot and the Narrative Arc (taking parts 1 and 2 first is not required).
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