Part of a good story is not only falling in love with the protagonist in one way or another, but having a good antagonist to help the protagonist shine through their trials. Sometimes when we’re creating a story, we can have a great concept for a story—great setting, great political system, great dystopia—whatever—but we’re lacking the characters to stick in the story itself.
I wanted to devise a writing prompt to help with that very situation that I personally find myself in so many times!
I came up with a general spread that involves two characters or groups, however you want to write it. And then afterward I explain how this spread can be used if the antagonist of the Main Character is internal.
Antagonist and Protagonist
Cards 1 and 2 don’t necessarily need to be drawn. If you have an idea for your MC and your Antagonist, or a concept for your antagonist, you can pull signifier cards and replace the first two cards with the signifier card.
Goals and Obsticals
Cards 3 and 4 represent the goals of your protagonist and antagonist, respectively. Now, when you do this, consider what these goals have in common, what differences do they have? This is an opportunity do really bring depth to your protagonist and your antagonist. If they are completely at odds with one another, then their goals should be at odds. If they’re similar, then it gives the opportunity for conflict within their opposition of each other. Meta conflict, if you will.
For example, if you say have a hero and a villain in the most classic of senses, they might have the same goal but two different ways of going about it which conflict with each of their ideals. Classic examples are, say, super heroes and cops. The cops want to stop the super heroes because they don’t want vigilantes making a mockery of them, but they still have the same goal of the super heroes: to keep civilians safe (I’m totally thinking of Batman here). They aren’t in direct opposition, but at the same time, if the cops see said hero, they’re probably going to arrest them.
Do the same thing for Cards 5 and 6. Consider how the opposition of each the goal of the protagonist and that of the antagonist support or contrast with the other. For example, does the problem the protagonist’s goal is facing conflict or go with the goal of the antagonist? Do they conflict? How does that affect the story and the relationship of the two?
What Binds Them
Finally, the final card is what it is that the protagonist and antagonist have in common? This can be as simple as they share the same living space/town, or it can be a character feature that connects them in different ways, or forces them to see reflections of themselves in each other.
People vs. Concepts
Now, the interesting thing is that the antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. It can be a concept, or it can even be a character trait in the protagonist. In that case, the goal of the antagonist would instead be conscious or unconscious aim of the pattern of behaviors or event, or something along those lines. Just adjust it accordingly.
If it’s a character trait within the protagonist, the opposition to the antagonistic behavior might be the thing within the protagonist that is working to stop it. In which case, the final card, the thing that they both have in common would more be the root of what brought the behavior up in the first place, and thus it is the thing that the MC must work toward healing.
To summarize, if the antagonist is internal, the card placements would be:
- MC’s goals
- Direction the Behavior is taking the MC
- What’s obstructing the MC’s goals (this can be externally as well)
- What in the MC is working against the Behavior
- The root of the Behavior
The World as a character is interesting. This can be a concept, but in the case of discovering your main character, it could represent a person who is in their element. They are the Mary Sue, essentially. Or at least they seem to be. They have everything they want or need in their life sorted, and they have their skills honed in. In their eyes, they are at their perfection.
The 8 of Wands in this situation again can be conceptual, or can be an individual. The 8 of Wands represent quick movement. While Wands are represented by Fire, thus meaning passion, creativity, production, and inspiration, the element of Air is strong in this, which is the intellect, messages, and communication. The Wands are Angled downward, as if about to land in their spot. Air fuels Fire, thus giving it a strong momentum. It’s quick. Where are these Wands landing? What or who is quickly approaching? Remember, this is your antagonist to your protagonist. This doesn’t always need to be a person, though can be.
What your MC wants is balance. The card of Temperance isn’t just handling things, but finding an actual balance between the spiritual world and the physical world. Your MC isn’t content with things, despite being at their version of perfection. They seek something higher, and that higher aim is held back by the 10 of cups, which again, is that perfectionism in the real world.
The antagonist’s goal is the Chariot. The Chariot is another card of action and movement, but this of a higher order. The Chariot has come from a place of divine knowledge, and with that knowledge goes onward. Some speculate that the Charioteer is a representation of the Knights Templar who went on a quest for the Holy Grail (higher understanding), returned and then went onward into the world to spread the word of God. What is crossing this goal is the 7 of Pentacles, which is the waiting game. This card indicates that the work has been done, and now the worker must wait for the results. The worker can become zealous and obsessed with the work in order to get to the results, so much so that they miss the results altogether.
The thing that both the antagonist and the protagonist have in common is the 8 of Swords. The 8 of Swords represents someone who is bound and blindfolded, surrounded by swords. Again, the suit of Swords is represented by Air, and Air is our thoughts and communications. Either the figures own ideas are keeping them bound, or the words of others are. In either situation, the figure has the power to free themselves.