Somehow, it is Monday again, which means we have made it through a full week of Camp NaNoWriMo and the 30-Day Novel Writing Challenge. Well done! It’s about this time I find myself getting stuck and needing a boost of inspiration. If you find yourself in the same position, don’t forget that there’s always the ‘I’m Stuck’ spread to find out what’s blocking you. Likewise, there are pleanty of other tools on my Writing Prompts page as well!.
When your character goes through the threshold, or even when they approach the threshold, they’re going to be tested. There are some who are the gate-keepers, so to speak, of the threshold, and then there are just general trials.
Considering Harry Potter, for an example, there were many tests that Harry regularly went through which lead to the climax of the series. Then there were those which lead to the climax of the book. For example, missing the train to Hogwarts, or not being able to get his letters, or having to get his books, or Professor Umbridge—all of these were trials not just for Harry, but for his classmates as well.
Not all of them need to end in success, either. Some failure is what keeps your reader at the edge of their seats, and lets them know that there’s an element of unpredictability.
When you get to these moments, how do you decide whether or not your character will fail? In Writing Excuses (one of the best writing podcasts out there, go binge listen to it right now), they talk about ‘yes/but/no/and.’ The idea behind this is when you ask about whether or not your character succeeds, you should always take on a ‘but/and.’
In the book Gone with the Wind, Scarlett is upset that Ashley is marrying Melanie, so she needs to get back at him. She thinks she succeeds (yes) but she’s left miserable and married. Later, she needs security, so she wants to get married again. She succeeds (yes) but it turns out that her husband with a business is soft and doesn’t collect debt, thus has no money.
In the original cartoon Disney Alice in Wonderland, Alice wants to go home, begins crying, finds a bottle which reads ‘Drink me,’ and does so thinking it might solve her problems. It doesn’t (no) and now she’s floating in a bottle in an ocean of tears.
Of course the ‘but’s’ don’t have to go with the ‘yes’s’ and the ‘and’s’ don’t have to go with the ‘no’s.’ You can mix them up. The point is, that the trials should lead the story on.
So, if you’re uncertain as to how to go about your trials, or uncertain as to how many there should be, I have a spread for you. Well, no, I have a general walk through of actions for you.
Note: These trials are not the same as the climax. Think of them as levels in a video game. You have the guy you fight at the end of the level, but at the end of the game you have the Boss, which is your climax. Unless your story is a tragedy (which awesome if it is—there aren’t nearly enough of those), it will be likely that your character will succeed in the Climax of the story.
For this you’ll need to have reversals. If you don’t generally use reversals, that’s ok. The way I like to make sure I have some is I’ll divide my cards into 3 -5 (depending on my mood) equal piles, flip one upside-down and shuffle them all back together. But you do really want to make sure you have a good shuffle on to ensure the reversals are mixed in. For this particular exercise, I’d keep with three cards.
Pick a signifier that summarizes your character or your story as a whole. You’ll also want to separate your Major Arcana, your Minor Arcana, and your Court Cards.
For this step, you’ll only need the Minor Arcana. Give them a good shuffle.
Draw a card
For this you’re going to look at the number of the card. If the card is 5 or higher, then divide it by two and round down if you need. If say, it’s a 7 of Swords, divide by two, which will get you 3.5, so round down to 3.
This represents how many trials your characters will have in the story. You don’t want to go crazy with trials, which is why I essentially cap it at 4 (I feel like 5+ is a bit excessive, though if you think you can pull it off, all the power to you!)
I should note too that if your character only has one trial, really put the umph into it. Also, if you want to have more than one trial, then do it! Draw again! After all, these spreads are meant to be a guidance for your story, to help you out of a pickle if you find yourself in one.
Draw three cards per trial.
- Card 1 will represent the trial itself.
- Card 2 will determine whether your character fails or succeeds. If the card is upright, then they succeed. If the card is reversed, then they fail.
- Card 3 will determine if it’s a but or an and. If it’s upright then it’s and. If it’s reversed, then it’s but.
Once you have drawn all your cards for trials, you’ll draw a further two cards per trial. Each of these cards will be read together to explain how they contribute to the overall plot.
As you go through this spread, look for any indication or inspiration as to what these trials might be. Make sure that you’re in a good spot with your story at the forefront of your mind when you do this. It can sometimes be difficult to come up with these connections, but that’s where a good journaling practice comes in.
Let yourself journal possibilities you see in the cards along the way, and you’ll find that eventually you find something that works. But the momentum of writing bout it will help your creative brain work, and keep a good habit of producing words, even if they’re not the story itself.
I chose the 7 of Swords reversed as my signifier. Because Percyval did a dodgy thing to solve his problem, he now has to face the repercussions of that dodgy dealing.
For my number of trials, I got the 7 of Cups. 7 halved is 3.5, and I round down, thus I have 3 trials for Percyval to face.
Trial 1: 6 of Wands
This actually directly corresponds to my first scene, in which Percyval’s goal was the 6 of Wands. It seems a little silly to say that his goal is to be successful—everyone’s goal is to succeed (however they define that). However, for me, this is the inciting incident. It’s the thing that spurs Percyval to seek help from the Lady in the Garden.
So far, what I have for my first scene is that Percyval is behind on these culturally important ceremonial dolls, and the deadline is fast approaching. People have paid upfront and good money, and he’s about 20 short. Because of his need to impress his boss who he knows wants to hand the business off to him, he has to succeed.
I got the 10 of Pentacles and the Ace of Pentacles, indicating that he succeeds and he no longer has to work on his craft—he’s mastered it (8 of Pentacles reversed), and while he’s still an apprentice, he’s no longer an apprentice of craft, but instead of the business that he’ll take over (3 of Pentacles0.
Trial 2: 9 of Wands
The 9 of Wands to me has represented my MC’s boss so far, but I think in this instance, considering that this will probably be closer to the middle of the book, this card represents Percyval. He’s exhausted, is always on guard. The climate at the time is that people are disappearing enough to make it noticeable and very worrying. He needs to see something, find something, at the right time, in the right place.
He fails (7 of Pentacles reversed) but (5 of Cups reversed) this leads him very quickly to some down-and-out people who have some knowledge (8 of Wands and 5 of Pentacles). Initially I thought that his failure would just slingshot him into despair, but then I realized that didn’t really go well with the but. So I thought harder on it and decided that his failure would bring him to something helpful from some rough-time-havin’ individuals.
Trial 3: 3 of Swords
He’s going to come up against a matter of the heart. He’s going to have to deal with some heart ache, or seeming heart ache.
I thought it was funny because the next cards I drew was the 9 of Pentacles, which has always been my Lady in the Garden, who he’s going to have a thing for and have to confront in one way or another. Either way, he is successful in this trial with the card mentioned, but (5 of Wands) his business is in jeopardy as a result (2 of Wands reversed) which puts him in a position where he feels like he’s running out of options (4 of Cups).
How’s your Camp NaNoWriMo going? How many trials have you got going in your piece? Let me know in the comments.
Here are some helpful links:
- Making a Problem
- Creating the Mentor
- Protagonist Vs. Antagonist
- Day 9: Protagonist & Antagonist (Note: this spread is different from the Protagonist Vs. Antagonist spread above, which is a seperate writing prompt).