Congratulations! You made it to the second day! I know that might seem a little patronizing, but seriously, it took me a couple of attempts of NaNoWriMo before I lasted past the second day. Trying to pump out a word count in a day, around life, and trying to also produce something that makes sense is rough! I don’t think non-writers really understand how tough it can be.
So, be pleased with yourself that you’ve started. That is absolutely the first step.
If we are going linearly, then by now you should have at least some of a first scene, and a character. Now, we need a world in which this scene and this character happen.
When I think of the term ‘world-building,’ I think of fantasy and science fiction world. Things where the writer is having to start from scratch and make very different to the ordinary world we live in. And that is part of it.
However, it could very well be that you are writing a contemporary, real world, real time piece. But you still have to world-build. This is letting the reader know the culture, the history, the community that your character exists in and interacts with. This can be the family dynamic in which the story focuses on which has a culture within itself brought about by the intermingling of backgrounds of the heads of the household. This can be the neighborhood they live in that throws an annual Daffodil Festival, or is being threatened by the city because they keep burning trash.
In the episode, ‘Viewpoints as World-building,’ the podcast hosts of Writing Excuses explains this concept beautifully. If there is a world where everyone adheres to a certain attitude or belief, there must be a cultural reason for it. In another episode, they use the example seen on Star Trek where they find a world where everyone wears a hat.
There must be a cultural reason why people wear these hats—perhaps they really paid attention to the Yorkshire anthem about a man who died because he canoodled with a lady without a hat and died (‘On Ilkla Moor Baht’at’), or perhaps there was once a parasite that seeped in through the scalp, and thus there is an ingrained fear of an exposed head, which might not even be conscious.
World-Building and Tarot
Now, how do we incorporate the Tarot into worldbuilding?
When I think of the many esoteric meanings and interpretations, I struggle to think of any card that is going to explicitly tell me how to create the world or universe my story is set in.
So here is a tarot spread to help you at least get a little bit of a framework of your world-building underway.
The World-Building Spread
Take a look at the reading you did yesterday with your setting. This should be Cards 2, d, e, and f. These cards show you how your character views the world, the physical setting, and how others view the world, at least in the immediate situation that your character finds themselves in. These cards should all be connected to Card 2, or Card 2 should be able to be summarized to include those aspects.
Now, as you shuffle, focus on your initial setting, and consider what this setting on a worldly picture might look like.
Now you’re going to lay out the cards.
Cards 1, 2, and 3
Cards 1, 2, 3 are going to be read together to create the One Big Thing you’re asking your reader to believe about your world.
In world-building for a novel, you don’t want to ask your reader to believe too many big things. Otherwise it gets ridiculous. Now, that isn’t to say that you can’t ask your reader to believe one big thing and then a culture and set of customs are logically built around that one big thing.
For example, if your one big thing that you want the reader to believe is that this is a world in which there are no oceans at all, then considering how the weather works, how people travel long distances, what water sources there are, how big they get and so on—those are all logical following of the one big thing.
Card 4 is what the beliefs the neighborhood/community/country/planet/kingdom—whatever—accept as a whole.
So based on this One Big Thing, this is going to be the kind of general belief system or world view of the World that you’re building. For example, in the setting of say a 15th century church, the One Big Thing is that there is only one god. A belief that comes from that one that is generally accepted is that man is the replication of God, and thus, since God is viewed as male, that men must be the dominant sex.
Card 5 is why those who are against/don’t believe in Card 4 don’t buy into it.
No culture unanimously believes the same thing. There will be pockets of individuals or groups who go against the norm. This will help your world be more dynamic and build a deeper setting.
Returning to the example in the 15th century church, there might say be one or two people who don’t believe that men are the dominant sex, or might not even believe in the One Big Thing.
Card 6 is a regular custom that is participated in by the culture. This can be weekly, annually, daily, when people meet people, at family gatherings—that is up to you to decide.
Considering the church example, there is the custom of going to church on certain days, there are holidays based entirely around the One Big Thing, there are societal rules around it, and even when people sneeze, we say “Bless you.”
Keep in mind too that the One Big Thing doesn’t need to be a religion. It can just be a major fact that has shaped the culture. Again, with the idea that there’s no ocean on a planet. Or in our modern times, there’s a hole in the Ozone which has shaped environmental consciousness and how we interact with the weather (not staying out too long, buying sun screen—thus certain aspects of marketing have been altered by this fact as well). It could also be the fact that the house at the end of the road is cursed, or haunted.
Cards 7, 8, and 9
Cards 7, 8, and 9 are read together to show either the really great thing about the One Big Thing, or the really horrible thing about the One Big Thing, depending on the cards and how you read them.
This is where the fun comes in, because it can certainly be twisted. To take an example from a Simpsons Halloween episode, the one thing that we are asked to believe is that Bart has mind powers that allow him to change people into whatever he wants. As a result, everyone has to be happy around him. This sounds like a nice thing—everyone smiling all the time which could make for a more pleasant world. But instead people are nervous, jumpy, afraid, and also building resentment.
Once you’ve read your spread, consider the logical ramifications of each thing in the reading. What is the ramifications of an opposing group? Is it big? Does it matter? Is it just a general attitude?
Take sometime to list out how this plays out to develop the world of your novel. Again, this is the world that your MC is participating in. That can be as small as a household, or as large as a universe. That is up to you and your story.
Cards 1, 2, and 3
I got the 9 of Pentacles, 8 of cups, and 5 of Swords. Because I was thinking of the woman in the garden that my MC is going to ask for a loan from, or something along those lines, it was essentially her family that I was thinking of when I drew these cards.
Oddly enough, I got ‘her card’ for one of my first cards regarding the One Big Thing.
What I came up with this is that this is a society in which the family unit is regularly broken up. The women in the family are sent away after four years to remarry into another family. Girls who reach puberty then also participate in this. The idea behind it is that it keeps bloodlines fresher, in theory.
The belief behind this is the 4 of Cups reversed. This keeps things alive, and going, interesting and exciting for people. They aren’t stuck in the humdrum of the same marriage for too long.
I got Death for the people who oppose this. I nearly drew a helper card for this, or at least another card altogether for this. After all, surely the people who would be in opposition of this would want change. Death doesn’t actually give me anything to work with.
Except that it definitely does. I was reading it as a Tarot card, and when we’re looking at the cards in the realm of creativity, it means we can look at the cards differently. These are inspiration points.
What I then came up with is that those who oppose this custom are in extreme opposition, to the point where they will kill one of their family members who tries to participate in it. They believe that the family is for life, and even more so to the point that there can be inbreeding within the family. Those cases are rare, but sons and daughters are not allowed to move out of the home unless there is a marriage arranged, to a family who also has these values. The problem is that these families can be rare, and that’s where inbreeding happens.
I got the 6 of Swords for my customs. There is a ceremony that is held which sends off the women of the family, and they can often be bitter sweet. The women know they have to go, though might not know where they are going to yet. But they know that there will be something good waiting for them, or at least, they have the hope.
Cards 7, 8, and 9
My three cards here are the 7 of Pentacles reversed, Justice, and the 7 of Swords reversed. The horrible thing is that there’s a feeling of “what’s the point?” when it comes to developing the family space. People might not be as willing to work toward successful marriages or unions because they’re just going to be separated again.
However, this also makes for a lot less pressure in the family space. People are more willing and open to loving other people since they know that they’ll have several partners during their life, and there’s a more fun and relaxed feel. For those who deeply love their current partner, they’re more likely to let little things that they might otherwise fight over go, since they know that their time together is limited.
However, it’s deemed as fair. What’s more, it’s somewhat of the law.
How’re your first few days going? Was this spread helpful for you?
I still have space in my Cabin, so if you’d like to join me, let me know!
Also, here are some additional linkes that might be helpful during the writing process:
- Day 0: Basic Outline
- Day 1: Opening Scenes
- How to Use Tarot for a 2-Card Writing Prompt
- Story Concept Writing Spread
- Some information on the 30 Day Camp NaNoWriMo Tarot Writing Challenge