Character Design

Reading Weiland’s How to Write Character Arcs. Well. Not really “reading.” The word is studying.

Using Weiland’s advice to make some changes in my process. In particular, the idea of the character’s problems being based on some lie they must discard is an interesting focus.

For minor characters, I have a hack that produces an interesting story line. I deal Tarot cards. Really.

What do you do to develop minor characters?

There’s a 6-card tableaux that can yield amusing intersections of wants and needs. I don’t think it can be used to create the main character for a novel. But. I do think it’s useful when wondering about the minor characters that are incidental parts of the story.

I’ve updated the software I use to emphasize the concept of a character who needs to find and overcome the lie in their story. They may want something unrelated to what they need.

In some cases, this technique is merely a thought provoker and gets set aside for something better. In other cases, it’s directly useful and I copy and paste the cards (and my take) into the character’s notes in Scrivener.

Here’s an example.

TO DO (character type)

-   Four Wands: Refuge, haven


COMING FROM (background, embracing the lie)

-   Eight Wands: Journey


TO OVERCOME (obstacle, person, god, or curse blocking the want)

-   Queen Swords: Keen-eyed decision


GOING TO (what the character wants, tangible but unhelpful)

-   Knight Pentacles: Utility, competence


NEED (what the hero must gain to replace the lie)

-   I Magician: Skilled use of power, diplomatic agreement


AVOID (the lie the hero must discard)

-   Knight Swords: Sudden Destruction

As you can see, you have to interpret the Tarot-ish nonsense in the context of the story you’re writing.

What’s a “refuge/haven” type of character? Maybe someone who’s offering refuge or a haven for others. A protector? A guardian?

“Journey”? They’re an outcast.

“Keen-eyed decision”? They got caught doing something bad. Intentional? Unintentional? That depend son the Need and Avoid information, soon to follow. Don’t start writing, yet.

“Utility/Competence”? They want to be be helpful in their newfound role as an outcast and wanderer. But. Really, this isn’t going to help them.

“Skilled use of power” is what they really need to overcome or replace the lie.

This is — of course — totally random. So the “utility” as something the character wants vs. “skilled use of power” as the thing the character really needs can seem kind of hair-splitting. 

Or.

It can be a really interesting and nuanced distinction the character must resolve. They must transcend mere utility into skilled use of power. 

And, The Most Important Part. The Lie.

"Sudden Destruction” is the lie they’ve embraced. Maybe they’ve bought into the idea of a catastrophe or accident that lead to the judgement and exile. Or maybe they’ve bought the idea that it was sudden; they weren’t set up patiently over a number of years by some rival. (Sometimes, looking at picture can stimulate ideas; most tarot decks have vivid, engaging pictures.)

The cards have given me a journey for this character…

The MC was lead to some magical item, tried to use it, screwed it up, someone died, they got caught, and now they’re exiled. They tell themselves they’re going to cope with the exile and move on with their life. They have skills useful in the Outlands. It’s okay.

But not really. 

They need to learn to to correctly use the magical item and get past the idea that it’s inherently destructive.

I can’t say the story writes itself from this. But. I find it helpful to fill out some useful background this way. Sometimes I flag these for future story treatment.

 © F. L. Stevens 2019