Getting to know you (a character spread for fiction)


I've had a couple of requests recently for the overall character spread I created last year as a "just who the heck are you anyway?" interview for main characters in my writing. I figured if I was going to write it up, I might as well post it rather than PM it around--maybe it'll be of use to others as well. Heck, it might even work as a general spread for ordinary mortals and not just imaginary friends. :joke:

While I created this spread to flesh out existing characters, using it to create entirely new ones can work too. Mine just tend to show up with their physical characteristics and dominant personality traits fairly formed already, and they start talking. It's getting behind the scenes with them that's such a chore. This spread aims to get rid of some of these conversations:

*Hero throws heroine off a tall building*
Author: "Wait, WTF did you just do? That's not in the storyline!"
Hero: "Yes, but that's how it happened. Fix your plot."
Author: "But why would you do such a thing?"
Hero, stalking off: "You're the writer, figure it out."​

Once I understood my hero's motivations for this seemingly insane behavior, I realized how it would change his reactions in other parts of the book, and the plot became stronger as a result. But knowing that in advance saves time rewriting, as well as wear and tear on the author. LOL (The heroine's fine, BTW.)

If you decide to give it a shot, please let me know in this thread how it worked for you. Feedback is also welcome on position changes you found useful, as are questions about anything I've said here. (As per forum rules, please don't ask for interpretation help here--that belongs in either Using Tarot Cards if you're struggling with just a few cards, or Your Readings if you want help with the whole spread. I find just walking away and mulling it over works wonders, as does digging through the forum for other interpretations.)

Lastly, if you choose to post about this spread elsewhere, please link back to it here. I've learned a ton from this forum, and others who follow links back here may find this a great place to learn from as well!

So, here we go!

Reading for characters is like reading for people on the Internet. Vizualize the character while shuffling, and keep him or her in mind as you deal. Everything in the spread is centered around him or her, as though they were reading for themselves.

Jolie's Overall Character Spread for writers (12 positions)


1--You (really, your character)
2--Question (What brings the character here to the start of this story?)
3--Conscious Desires
4--Unconscious Desires
5--What is hidden
6--Hopes & Fears
7--Blocking or covering (relates to #6)
8--Underlying influences
9--What you can change
10--What you can't change
12--Goal or outcome​

Notes on positions:
#1 can either be drawn along with the rest of the cards, or can be the character's significator--any card you feel best represents them. If I select for them, I don't limit this to just court cards.
#5 can include not only what they're hiding from others, but what they're hiding from themselves.
#6 can be either or both. I tend to read traditionally positive cards as Hopes, and traditionally negative cards as Fears.
#7 I do this one a bit oddly too; it's very much intuition based on how the cards come together. It can be keeping hopes from coming true, something that supports the character's fears, another character that's interfering or manipulating things, etc. It all depends on what else has turned up in the spread, and what stage of development I've already reached with that character I'm analyzing.
#9 & 10 can be internal or external. (One villain got the heroine's significator for number 10--he can't change who she is or what her effect is on him. The hero of the same story got a card that represented his core self in the same position--he can't change who he is at the deepest levels.)
#11 is the character's default behavior when confronted with a challenge. When the **** hits the fan, what is this person going to try first? (Note--this is one place where his flaws may show up loud and clear, depending on the card drawn. There's a pretty big difference between someone who runs headlong into every fight and one who always tries to talk his way out of something sticky. Your default reaction to problems says a lot about you, and it's the same for your characters.)
#12 Use whichever you prefer--goal and outcome are NOT always the same. I usually already know one or the other, but this card can be quite a surprise sometimes, and lead you to rethink a lot of things.​

Optional card positions:

* Base/Shadow (Card at the bottom of the deck)
* Quint/Summary (Add this up as you prefer; I personally add majors and minors, not court cards, and do not subtract reversals if they are used. I do not count the base/shadow card in this calculation.)

For this spread, I've found the quint to be more useful for getting a major arcana "theme" for the character arc (growth during the story), while the base/shadow often is more indicative of their actual part in the plot. But if you choose to use these, interpret them as you feel most comfortable. I often won't bother with these if I have a pretty good feel for this character already.​

I interpret the cards one position at a time first, then contrast #3/4 and #9/10 (both are often quite interesting when looked at together). Then I'll look at the spread as a whole for patterns or things that might jump out at me. Cards 1, 2, 6/7, 11, & 12 form a horizontal line that gives you a loose, 30,000 foot view of the character and his role in the plot. 5, 6/7, and 8 are often going to be "behind the scenes stuff, things that may not make it onto the page, but provide backstory you need to understand the character.

General notes:

I use this spread mainly for the big guns--my Main Characters and the most important of my secondary characters. It's a lot to interpret, and there are smaller spreads that are better options for lesser characters who get killed in the first act. (aka Redshirts, for those familiar with Star Trek)

Before I do anything else, I tally up the following:

# of Majors vs Minors vs Courts--this tells me how much leeway the character has in choosing his actions. If there's a LOT of majors, it may be that this character's role in the plot is primarily externally driven--often these indicate universal forces in the story (gods, destinies, etc.). If it's mostly Minors, he/she has more control over their direction--good or bad, their own actions determine their fate. Lots of Courts can make it clear that this character is heavily influenced for good or evil by others.​

Elements--Number of cards per element that appear, and specifically which elements are dominant or weak in this character. I count the elements for Majors and Courts as well, not just Minors.​

Courts in this spread can be tricky to read, just as they are in normal readings. They may be actual characters, or they may be energies at work in the character's life, or represent traits he needs to foster in himself. Of course, you can use any rules you normally would in interpreting these.​

I also photograph the spread, and do close ups of individual card stacks if I'm not going to write the whole thing up at once or if I'm using a highly detailed/unfamiliar Tarot deck--this lets me refer back without having to drag the cards back out; the spread takes up a fair amount of room. All this ends up on my iPad, so it's easy to zoom in on images.

Take lots of notes. You'll end up adding this to your character bible, and referring back to it, especially if you do spreads for more than one character in a story. When you've done the same spread for multiple characters who interact, you'll spot additional patterns between them.

Using multiple decks:

I tend to lay this spread out with at least three decks--the Deck of 1000 Spreads, which labels the positions for me, the Story Forge cards for writers (available on Amazon and referred to as SF below), and whichever Tarot deck I feel best suits the character. I've also been known to add in an oracle. This isn't necessary by any means; you can lay it out strictly as a one deck Tarot spread and get a lot of useful info from it.

When using this as a multi deck spread, I lay out the positions first using the Deck of 1000 Spreads. On top of each of these, I lay one Story Forge card. (For position #1, I may choose the SF card labeled Protagonist or Antagonist, or I may simply draw--again, it depends on how much I already know about this character.) SF cards, unlike Tarot, are flexible in use. They're also double ended (mostly reversed meanings). If a card doesn't seem to fit exactly as drawn, I may choose to reverse it manually. If it still doesn't fit no matter how I try, I'll toss it and draw another. I do NOT do this with the Tarot cards or any Oracles I draw.

On top of the SF card, I lay one Tarot card. At this point, each position has 3 cards: position title, Story Forge, and Tarot. These three cards are now read in context together. This is important, because it adds additional layers for you to consider. For example, when I first did this spread with the hero and heroine of a book, they both got the 6/Swords in the Goal position. Cool--they both want the same thing, right? Yay, happy ending as they ride off into the sunset!

But hold up...their Story Forge cards were different. His is Order. Hers is Rebirth. It made me sit back and think; they want the same thing to a degree--escape, a bit of peace, relief from suffering. But they want it for different reasons, and as such, their ideas about what that goal looks like are likely to be very different as well! Are they really going off together? Is there enough in common here when all is said and done? Are they even escaping the same thing...or are they really escaping each other?

The whole point of combining decks is to add more depth to both character and plot. Flesh and blood beings have a lot of depth, and so do the best fictional characters. Using the decks this way makes me think, sparks new ideas, and generally gives me additional things to consider as I write. (Caveat: it can also be a huge pain in the ass...especially since this spread is already pretty large. LOL)

This can work with an Oracle deck in place of the Story Forge cards, or with an oracle added in addition to the others. The Tarot card always takes precedence for me. It may be modified a bit by other cards in that position--adding motivations or other context-- but I don't choose to deviate significantly from what the Tarot gives me to work with.

Hope this helps others really dig into their fictional friends, especially the troublesome ones. It's been a great way for me to gain a deeper insight into some of my problem children, and bring them a step closer into being ready to present to future readers.

As always, best of luck in your creative projects!


Amazing!! Thank you so so much for writing this up!!

I love the detail and thought that's gone into this spread, and it's exciting to think about the possibilities of using multiple decks. (Would you use multiple tarot decks?) I've never heard of the Deck of 1000 Spreads or Story Forge, and they look super cool. I definitely want to look into getting them.

I think if I was going to adjust anything in the spread (and I'm not sure that I would; it looks really good!) I might place 5 between 4 and 10, to reflect that it's hidden and under the surface, and in formerly-5 I would add a new card: what's projected. Basically what side the character tries to show to others, even if it's not necessarily their true face.

This would definitely be interesting to do for someone in your life. :') I wonder how that would turn out!


Interesting suggestion, lillywood, thanks! "What's projected" would be very useful either for brand new characters that you're creating, or for authors who don't have figments who chatter at them non stop. (There are times I wish mine didn't! LOL What they show me is mostly the face they show the world. But not everyone works like that.) Oooh...could also work for what they project to specific characters only--family versus work, for example. I'll have to try that one too and see what turns up.

Story Forge is a very accessible deck even for non Tarot users; I actually started out with it, and found this place looking for more spreads to use with just that deck. I advanced to Tarot from there, and quickly found that the two work surprisingly well together. It makes for interesting oracle readings too. And the Deck of 1000 Spreads is a terrific deck for beginners to spreadcrafting.

Do post back when you've had a chance to try it out. I'd be interested to see how well it works for you.


Will do! :D I might post it in the Your Readings to see how I've done with the tarot side of it.

Ahaha, I used to have characters chatter at me a lot, but went through a phase where I felt really embarrassed by it for some reason. :');;; I'm starting to get back into that, and strangely enough, it's been tarot that has kind of gotten me listening to those voices again. So the 'projected' would be pretty useful for me with new and older characters. (To be fair, writing a character quite a bit also gets me enough into their head that it's more of a 'writing through me' than 'me writing them'.)

If you do end up using that suggestion, I'd be interested to see if it adds anything for you.