It’s Character Building by Arwen Lynch

You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.
Henry David Thoreau

You must hammer and forge one yourself is quite true of the characters for your stories. You don’t want a carbon copy of someone else’s character (unless you are writing fan-fic). The Hero of your tale must stand out in your reader’s mind. This must be one of the unforgettable things of your book.

It’s a toss-up for some as to whether the best tales are plot-driven or character-driven. For me, I need characters I like. I’ve heard it said, and it is true for me, that the Hero or Heroine of your book must be someone your reader would want to have lunch with.  He or she should be someone that strikes a chord with the reader.

Well, I’ve read some books where the Hero was not someone I could feel sympathy for. But I kept reading because the author managed to hook me into the character somehow. One that stands out in my mind is Stacia Kane’s heroine, Chess, from her Downside Ghosts series. Chess is an addict—not really the character you would want to have lunch with, but she is a memorable one nonetheless.

So how do you create a character that stands out? What do you put into this individual who must be so memorable? It goes beyond hair and eye and skin tone—although an argument for hair could be made by the lead character in “Rapunzel.” In the Tarot deck, there are sixteen cards that may help you develop a character. They are the court cards. Each of the four suits has four court cards.

The Pages represent our youth so they are up to the age of 16 which has been the age of maturity in terms of sexuality. If you get a Page, you might consider that it is in an area where your character lacking maturity. Traditionally, the Page was the message carrier so they are often seen by the message they carry. The Page of Swords brings a message of a problem resolution (good or bad.) The Page of Wands delivers news either about a business endeavor or a spiritual matter. The Page of Cups is our lover who brings love letters or Dear John missives. Last is the Page of Coins who could be a message about health or a job offer.

Next we have our bold Knights. These are the 17-27 crowd. This is a very mobile group who are seen as travelers. It’s one reason you usually see Knights on horses or some type of beast. A Knight in your Character Spread could indicate a love of travel or perhaps a need to travel. The Knight of Swords represents travel by air. The Knight of Wands goes by motor vehicle including bus, train and motorcycles. The Knight of Cups travels by boat naturally. And the Knight of Coins takes the shank’s pony (his own two feet) or an animal.

Queens span the ages of 28-55. They are the nurturers as well as the creative force of the court cards. They represent the age where we develop and deepen ourselves. We’re usually done traveling by this time. The Queen of Swords represents the one who works in the communication field. The Queen of Wands could be a travel agent or a public relations guru. The Queen of Cups would be the counselor or perhaps the psychic. The Queen of Coins is the high-level manager or tax accountant.

Last are the Kings whose age is 56 and beyond. They are the ones who close the deal and make things happen. The King of Swords is the entrepreneur who goes skydiving to brainstorm. Our King of Wands might be a politician with big ideas. The King of Cups is the one who has become a motivational speaker or maybe a guru somewhere. The King of Coins now owns the bank or is a mover-and-shaker in the financial district.

We will be using these for our next exercise. Please remove the court cards from your deck.



  1. 9 of Wands: active, eager, passionate
  2. Lovers: He’s a male matchmaker
  3. Hermit: His grandfather who was a bit of a loner after his wife died.
  4. 6 of Fire: He likes to win and sometimes isn’t careful about who he insults. This has created some enemies for him.
  5. Ace of Cups: He’s very good at seeing who will make a good match in love.

So to bring that all into one package, you have a man who makes his living playing Cupid (expressing that 9 of Wands energy with the Lovers) but doesn’t have a relationship of his own (Hermit). He wants one like Grandpa and Grandma had (Ace of Cups) But his habit of taking no prisoners in business has not won him friends (6 of Fire). He is a very good business man but matching up others makes him feel lonely.

When you are building your character, always keep in mind that you are the creator. As the writer, you hold, you will pardon the pun, all the cards. If you don’t like a card that shows up, try to work with the negative side.


Cocktail Spread

Next let’s examine a spread I do for my characters to deepen them. Often our characters are sketchy at first. We might know one or two things about them like caped crusader who fights crime. But we need more. We need to know what makes them stand out at the League of Justice company picnics. When this happens, I pretend I’m going to a cocktail party with my hero as my guest.

Cocktail parties are designed to be free-flowing and you need a quick introduction. For those in the writing business, you can think of this as your Elevator Pitch only for your character. You will draw three cards. The first card is what your character does for a living. The next is why your character does that for a living. And the last card is a personality quirk.

  1. Your Character’s Job
  2. Your Character’s Personality
  3. A Quirk

For me, the most important card here is the quirk. Let’s say your hero’s job is saving Metropolis from criminals (Knight of Swords). His personality is the strong, silent type (Emperor). But his quirk? His quirk is that he has this thing for a woman but she doesn’t know about his secret identity (Page of Pentacles.) I’m most interested in what makes him unusual, aren’t you?

For instance, if you get the Ace of Cups but you’ve already decide your hero sucks at love, reverse that Ace so all the water is flowing out. He can see love but can’t hold on to it for himself.

Arwen Lynch is a professional Tarot conversationalist who works with prepublished and published authors. Published as the writing team of Marilu Mann, Arwen uses the Tarot to plot stories as well as to build and deepen characters. She teaches workshops as well as does one-on-one teaching with those who want to learn to use Tarot for their own purposes.



Fairy Tale Tarot Spreads is a compact e-book featuring ten spreads. Using the archetypes from fairytales, Arwen delivers inventive spreads that help you go deeper into your own psyche. Excellent for working with characters as well.

Buy Fairy Tale Tarot Spreads here.



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As a child Angel Leigh was quite often found curled up with her nose buried in a book. By her teen years, she was writing as much as she was reading. ...