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Short Story Writing Prompt Spread

There are a lot of great ways to format a novel, but sometimes we just want to write something small, something quick, something that packs a punch but doesn’t take us a year to write. Or maybe it will. Either way, sometimes we just want a collection of short stories under our belt.

So I’ve created a writing prompt for just this purpose. his is a very simple 4-card spread just to get the creative juices flowing.

The Spread

Short Story Spread

Card 1: Character

The first card is your character. This might indicate a trait that they might have, or it could be the image in the card. Use whatever you can find in the card to help you along your way.

A tip for chards that don’t have images (though note, I am specifically thinking of Rider-Waite-based decks), such as the Aces or the 8 of Wands. There’s a couple of things you can do:

  1. Vampire Tarot Ace of Pentacles
    Ace of Coins, Vampire Tarot

    Remember that the aces represent beginnings and messages of their element. If it’s the Ace of Wands, then you can have an entrepreneur as your character. If it’s the Ace of Swords you can have a student or an intern. If it’s the Ace of Cups it could be someone going on their first date, or learning to sail. If it’s the Ace of Cups it could be someone at the first day on the job, or an apprentice.
    For cards like the 8 of Wands, it can be difficult. There’s very little imagery to go on. However, You can always think of the elemental combination and apply it to characteristics. The 8 of Wands is one of the few non-court card Minor Arcana that really infuses two elements together. The 8 of Wands is Air meeting Fire, which fuels it. It’s high energy, high passion, high creativity. It is something coming in to land. See where this takes you.

  2. The second thing you can do is draw two other cards for your first card, which would give you three Card 1’s. Use the combination of images or meanings to create a character from that.

Card 2: Object

Prisma Vision Tarot
2 of Swords, Prismap-Vision Tarot

This card is an object. You’ll use this as something to steer your story, as a focal point, as a witness to the scene, as the thing that causes the problem, the thing that solves the problem—whatever you want. But it’s just to help generate the story.

That being said, of course when you turn over the card, you’re not necessarily going to get a card that says ‘a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg,’ but you’ll be shown images and from the images depicted on the card, you can pick an object and mutate it how you’d like. Say, if it’s the butterfly on the Queen of Swords, it could literally be a butterfly in a garden, a painting of one, a pair of jeans decorated with them, one of those hair clippies from the 90’s, a moth destroying a city, a rare breed turned into a pair of earrings—that is up to you.

Another thing you can do with this card is look at the meaning and see what object you associate with that meaning, and go from there.

Card 3: Setting

Impressionist Tarot Magician
Magician, Impressionist Tarot

In this one, you are most likely going to be looking at literal images within the card. Where is it set? What time period? Does it fit what you have in mind with Card 1 and 2? Are there mountains? Is it outside? Inside? In a bedroom? In a church?

Another thing you can look at is the element of the card:

  • If it’s Cups or one of the water cards, it could be on a boat, at the lake, the beach, in a submarine, floating on a log, it could be raining, etc.
  • If it’s the Wands or a Fire element, it could be the desert, some place tropical, in a volcano, on a spaceship toward the sun, in a burning building, etc.
  • If it’s Swords it might be somewhere in the air, such a zeppelin, a hot air balloon, a plane, space ship, witch’s broom, a city in the clouds, etc. Or it could be in a classroom, a courtroom, a podium for speeches, etc.
  • If it’s Pentacles or an Earth sign, it could be outside, in the woods, in the garden, on a mountain, climbing a cliff. It could also be a money-printing factory (is that what they are?), a bank, an accountant’s office, a treasury, etc.

Card 4

16 - The Tower
The Tower, Rider-Waite Tarot

This card you will be looking at the meaning of the card. This one will tell you the problem that has to be solved in order to complete the story. I won’t say too much for this, as I think it speaks for itself, but I do have a few tips or considerations:

  1. If it’s a court card, the problem might be another person or another aspect of the character.
  2. If it’s a Major Arcana, it might be a problem that has to do more outside the main character that the MC has to deal with rather than specifically solve, and thus, it becomes about the MC navigating around the problem successfully.
  3. If it’s a Minor Arcana, it might be a problem that the MC has to solve personally, within the realms of the story.

Sample Reading

Trippin' Waite Tarot
Trippin’ Waite Tarot: 5 of Cups, Knight of Wands, 4 of Pentacles, 3 of Swords
  1. Character: 5 of Cups
  2. Object: Knight of Wands
  3. Setting: 4 of Pentacles
  4. Problem: 3 of Swords

So I thought that using the Trippin’ Waite Tarot might make this easier–nope. My setting appears to be in a psychadelic rainbow spiral.

So how I would actually approach this:

Character

I would have a musician (guitar) who is too focussed on the opportunities lost. They aren’t seeing that they can pick themselves up and fill the two cups behind them from the river. As a result, my character is a little bit of a Negative Nancy, and becuase of this, they continually miss out on opportunities.

Object

My object might be the Gecko on the Knight’s clothing. I don’t think that it will revolve around an actual literal Gecko, but rather my MC’s stage name is Gecko becuase his songs ‘stick in your head like a gecko to a wall’ (Gecko says laughing, hitting the spliff).

Setting

While it might be fun to give my character some weird acid trip or whatever that sends him spiralling into the depths of his mind to find a creative outlet, it is few and far between that can make that sort of setting work, never mind be contained in a short story. Thus, I would opt for looking at the element of the card, that being Earth.  Especially giving that the 4 of Coins generally has a miserly quality about it, I might think that the setting is a bank.

Problem

The problem is the 3 of Swords. This I will take at face value, which is disapointment. Sometimes it can mean heartbreak, though I like disapointment more. It’s walking away from a difficult situation that causes heartache. So, considering that my setting is a bank, I want to say that my disapointment is being turned down for a bank loan.

Tarot for Writing

The key to these isn’t necessarily to turn them into anythign great, but to use them as practice, something for you to get a creative writing habbit going with, something that you can start the day with and get your literary exercise in. It’s your warm up to the heartier stuff.

So challenge yourself to write out these prompts, even if you’re not feeling them. It doesn’t matter if the only thing it’s worthy for is theb in. Write it anyway and then figure out what about it didn’t go well, and learn from it. That is the point of writing exercises.


Have you tried this layout? What did you think? What spreads work for you? Let me know how you use tarot in your writing routines and practices.

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