Day 16 of 30-Day Tarot Writing Challenge: Character Background

30 Day Tarot Writing Challenge

Congratulations if you’re still on track! You are now over the hump, we are past the half way mark! Well done!

If you’re feeling stuck, this is a good time to look at your important characters and flesh them out. A good way to do this is to look at the backstory.

A character’s backstory doesn’t necessarily need to be exposed within a story (though if you’d like excellent examples of well-developed characters and exposition of their backstories, read literally any of Toni Morrison’s fiction. I highly recommend Song of Solomon), though is an excellent way to get to know how a character reacts to certain situations.

Consider a rescue dog. Your story with your rescue dog starts from when you meet them, and as you get to know them, their past comes out. If they were abused they might be very nervous. If they were taken away from their mother too soon, they might experience separation anxiety. If they lived in a kennel outside, you might have to housetrain them, and so on.

Thus, your reader is taking your story home, and they will get to know the backstory of your character through their mannerism rather than explicitly being told. Of course there are some instances in which you talk about the backstory of a character, though ask what it’s adding to the story.

So here is a spread that gives you the basic outline for a backstory. One of the areas has to do with a professional life. If you’re dealing with a young character who might not have experienced a professional life, this can be interchanged with a social life, education, etc. Likewise, if you’re dealing with an older character and you want to include a social and/or education experience, all you have to do is add rows to the spread.

Character Background Spread

As I mentioned before, this is to give the barebones of a backstory, but can be used for any of your characters. I personally recommend that you select all of your important characters and do this spread for each one, especially if you find yourself in need of a little inspiration to move you along.

For a signifier, select a card you feel best represents the character you’d doing the spread for.

The spread is divided somewhat into rows, each row representing a different area of life. Do note that the final row alters slightly from the pattern of the rest of the areas. As you’re laying the spread, put the numbered card down, then the lettered cards for that row before moving to the next number.

Day 16

A Cards: Difficulties

The A cards will cross the numbered cards which are at the head of each row. They represent the difficulty the character was faced with regarding the area of the row. For example, the A Card in Row 1 will deal with family difficulties.

B Cards: Success/Fail

The B cards indicate whether or not the difficulty in the row was overcome. If the card is upright, it will indicate that yes, the difficulty was overcome, and will give greater detail to it. This could be how it was overcome, or a lesson learned from the difficulty. If the card is reversed, then it indicates that it is something they are still dealing with, or was just never resolved. Again, the card will give the detail as to why that is the case, or what the character needs to do in order to overcome the difficulty.

DO NOTE: in Row 4, there is no card B. This is intentional.

C Cards: Plot

As I mentioned before, the background can come up in the plot. This card is how this aspect of the background can be shown or how it connects in the plot. C Cards represent a way that this part of the character manifests in the story.

Row/Card 1: Family

This represent past family life of your character. This isn’t meant to be their adult family life so much as their home and family while they were growing up. This row will not only show the quality of the family life for your character, but will also give insight as to how your character develops relationships and how they love. Generally, a family is where we first learn to love, as even if we hate our family and had a horrible upbringing, at some point we loved our family because we didn’t know any better. Likewise the complete opposite could be true.

Row/Card 2: Romance

This row doesn’t necessarily represent who they marry or the success and fail of relationships, though it can certainly indicate it. This can also indicate their attitudes toward romance—maybe they are sworn against it, perhaps they are a hopeless romantic. Maybe they’re sexist against the opposite sex, or their own sex, which shapes the way they view a partnership. Likewise, it can be their hopes, their fears, etc.

Row/Card 3: Profession

This row represents their ambitions and goals as well as how successful they’ve been in the professional world. This can be university, internships, apprenticeships, practicing, meetings with people in their field, and so on. Likewise this position can indicate the character’s drive and view point on the professional world. In one of my stories, and I have a character who’s figured out how to work the bare minimum to meet her bills, and won’t do anything more than that, viewing it as a complete waste of her time.  Or there are characters who are complete workaholics. This Row will give more indication in this area.

Row/Card 4: Ideology

The fourth Card in the fourth Row represents and ideology they hold tightly to. This could be religious, philosophical, or a principle. However, while the rest of the numbered Card positions are strictly in the past, this card is carried into your story. This may or may not be challenged, or it might be something that they have to solve during the course of the story.

Card 5: Reaction

Instead of a B Card next to Card 4, there is Card 5, which will show how your character reacts to this ideology being challenged. They might be calm about it, knowing all the answers, or they might be aggressive. They might not be able to handle their ideology being challenged, and crumple. It might send them into an existential crisis that they need to reconcile. Either way, this can come in handy throughout your story if you want to create depth to the character.

Now that you know a little more about the background of the character, check out Day 17: Data Dump

My Accountability

This is a little bit of a cop-out, but I’m not going to post my accountability today. The reason being that I strongly recommend that this spread is done for each important character, and that would just be a little ridiculous to post.

However, if you guys are itching to know, let me know in the comments and I’ll post it in a separate entry.


  1. So I haven’t been commenting as much as I intended at the start of the month. But I’m still really enjoying this. I’m newish to tarot so doing a large spread each day is challenging, but interesting. I’m getting different insights into the cards and really getting to know the deck I’m using. I’m also finding that cards tend to mean certain things or people and it’s fascinating to see where they pop up in the spreads.

    1. Hi Jennifer–I’m really glad you’re enjoying the spreads! The one thing I really wanted to do when I decided to do this series was to show people who read tarot how to use the cards differently, but also how to look at the cards differently. Likewise, I wanted to open the doors to those who don’t generally gravitate toward the tarot to open themselves to what the cards have to offer. In this, I think it helps bring together new perspectives and understandings of the cards. By usuing the cards creatively, we look at them differently, which can only further our understandings.
      I welcome you as a newcomer! Tarot is such a beautifully rich topic to study, and I wish you all the wealth that your studies can bring you 🙂 Let me know how your writing turns out with these spreads! I’m really excited to hear what people come up with!

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