11 Days & 11 Ways to Plot Your Novel: Rider-Waite-Smith, The Fool's Journey #writerwednesday

You’ve probably heard of Joesph Campbells Hero’s Journey (which we will cover tomorrow), but The Fool’s Journey might be less familiar to you.

I kinda went a little nuts about tarot in the last couple of years. It’s become an integral part of my writing process and it has helped me write my self out of many a corner. However, this Fool’s Journey plot formula is just really fucking intimidating. I have nothing to base this on because I haven’t used it yet! But I have no doubt that it’s an excellent way to write a book.

This particular plot formula requires the purchase of an additional tool for your writer’s toolbox: a deck of tarot cards. You can grab a fairly inexpensive deck from Amazon, but be forewarned…this purchase might alter your storytelling process forever! You could also use a traditional deck of playing cards. I’ve never done this, so you’ll have to research that on your own. Tasha can’t do everything.


What is The Fool’s Journey?

Co-creator of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, Arthur Edward Waite said that the Fool is “a spirit in each of experience.” How your character gains that experience is “The Fool’s Journey.”

There are 78 cards in a tarot deck and each deck is separated into two parts—major arcana and minor arcana. The Fool’s Journey uses only the major arcana.

Major arcana cards are the archetypal character’s that you’ll probably recognize from pop-culture or from readings you may have received in bookstores or metaphysical shops, ie. The Grim Reaper as Death and the goddess Justice—giver and enforcer of laws—the figure we see in almost every courthouse in our nation.

Carl Gustav Jung believed that these archetypes were “a second psychic system of collective, universal, and impersonal nature that are identical in all individuals.”

….and now I’ve lost some of you in the back. I’ll stop now, but I could literally go on for hours about Tarot and the Art of Storytelling. If you want to know the real deal on how to use it, I highly recommend Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner. You can also get a literary tarot reading from my good friend Caroline Donahue.

The Fool’s Journey in action:

The Fool’s Journey is told in three acts, but first, you must extract your major arcana from the deck. You can do this one of two ways: shuffle the deck and pull out the major arcana cards as you encounter them or you can pull them out and relate specific cards to part of your character’s story arc. Lay your cards out in 3 rows of seven and begin your reading!

Act One (Row 1)

This first row represents the journey through childhood or young adulthood. From left to right, the cards and their interpretations create an outline. Keep in mind that in this act, your character is like the Fool, a happy wanderer setting out on a journey, hungry for new experiences. Their friend groups are introduced, the family and their relationship with their parents, and their association with other authority figures play a large role in this act.

This act typically ends with your character at a crossroads between their current familiar life and the seductive pull of adventure. In a romantic or erotic novel that pull is usually a love interest. Unfortunately, this means that some of the relationships with family and friends will be tested or severed.

Act Two (Row 2)

In this act, your naive Fool encounters many life lessons. The find courage and the strength to face their fears, insecurity, and adversity. Without the support of their friend and family introduced in the first act, the Fool navigates change and sacrifice, both painful and pleasurable, in their journey to becoming self-sufficient.

At the end of this act, The fool believes that they’ve finally mastered this new life and love that they have embarked on. They believe that they have every and anything they could ever want.

Act Three (Row 3)

In this act, our sweet, naive Fool is punched in the mouth by life and realizes that what they mastered was small potatoes compared to what they really need to know about life and love. Their heart is broken for the first time. This heartbreak initiates real change and they have no choice but to pick themselves and find a way to heal. In that healing process, they learn that a lot of their troubles are illusions/problems of their own creation. This realization leads to a huge psychological and emotional breakthrough and our leaves our Fool optimistic again. No longer naive, he is ready for a new journey. The world and everything in it is theirs again.

This just one (read: my) interpretation of The Fool’s Journey. The interpretation will change depending on the cards you draw and your character. But that’s the beauty of Tarot! One constant is that The Fool gets more enlightened as the go on with the peaks and valleys of real-life trails.

The Fool’s Journey—as well as The Hero’s Journey, which I’ll cover tomorrow—are well suited for plotting erotic fiction as most really memorable erotic stories involve a coming-of-age or maturation of some sort.