How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: Setting & Characters

I’ve been talking a lot about poetry lately, but I’m also participating in The Writer’s Games. The challenge to write a short story to a prompt each weekend started two weeks ago. I’ll be getting a new prompt this evening.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have found many fun plotting games and devices over the years:

story plotting is fun

Yesterday, I happened upon a new one. Writer and game designer Jason L. Blair did a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds introducing his new tabletop RPG (role playing game) Full Deck Roleplaying.

I downloaded the Playtest PDF to see what he was talking about and enjoyed that the game is played with a regular deck of playing cards, so I could play along right away.

As I began to read the instructions, I instantly knew this wasn’t only a game, but my kind of writing tool: simple, fun, and full of beautiful illustrations!

The game rules set up categories for scene and character creation based on the four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds or clubs. I’m excited to get started, so I’m going to start drawing cards to see what I’m working with. I found a brand new, unopened deck of bicycle fire cards in the cupboard, so that’s fun. It took me a while to break them in to shuffle well.

As I read through the game play again, I was inspired to try a real test run of the game. To do that, I needed some friends to play with, so to have some much needed fun today (since my internet has been so slow as to be useless for two days now), I decided to create a photography tableau of friends playing the game and run through a scenario.

ready friends

Here are my friends:

Teddy has lived with me since before I was a Swedish exchange student. He has traveled the world with me and is a great travel companion: We never bicker, probably because he doesn’t mind letting me lead, and we like the same things.

Miss Blue and I met in New Orleans. We met at the hat shop I worked at in the French Quarter. She always liked my designs the best. We went for drinks when I got off of work one day and became fast friends. She can be a bit self-centered and is always borrowing my clothes without asking. I get over it quickly though because she looks good in them and she’s a warm fuzzy in my life.

I met Luchinda in San Antonio. She has a very vibrant, spicy personality. Being so passionate, she can also be quick to anger. She and I have a great time, in small doses.

Woody was introduced to me by my artist friend, E. Spencer Matthews III. Woody’s an old fashioned kind of guy who always looks a bit haunted, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think he plans on cheating; just look at his deck of cards. He and Luchinda are a fun couple, very lively, great energy, at least, when they’re not fighting.

I thought Levi might join us. He seemed interested when I was setting up the table, but he doesn’t like my friends. He’s playing kitty in a drum right now. Maybe he’ll join us later. If he does, he can play my character while I take pictures.

Miss Blue has printed out game booklets with the rules and player sheets for everyone and will play as the dealer. When she set out a deck of FLORIDA playing cards as the challenge deck, we all laughed.

“I bet there are some unimaginable challenges in there,” I said.

“I hope there won’t be any gator wrestling,” said Teddy with a little shiver.

“I’m up for any kind of wrestling challenge,” said Luchinda.

Woody stared at the Florida deck with a haunted look. I wondered if he had experienced some Florida challenges he would rather not remember.

Miss Blue starts the game by drawing the setting cards.

the setting

Setting

Time: Jack of Spades = Past

Theme: 7 of diamonds = Sci-Fi

Trope: King of Clubs = Conspiracy

“Well that’s just Roswell,” Luchinda blurts out sounding disappointed.

“Or kinda Stargate,” I say.

“What’s wrong with Roswell?” You loved the museum, if I remember correctly,” Woody says with a sly smile.

Luchinda blushes and giggles.

What do you think, Teddy?” I ask. “What setting do you think the cards tell us to have?”

Teddy takes a sip from his candy cane shot glass and says, “The past doesn’t have to be long ago past. It can be last week or a year ago. What if the conspiracy is Bio-weapons and we are trying to find the horrible labs where they are experimenting with the viruses and stop the pandemic before it happens?”

Everyone, other than Teddy, moans.

Miss Blue pats his paw. “Teddy Dear, we’re playing this to escape the pandemic, pretend it’s not happening for a few hours. Lets try something more fantastical.”

“I know, ” she says, “let’s play that all those ideas in the fifties and sixties of space-age colonies and things were true, but they were built on another planet because what really happened is they discovered a wormhole and found abandoned human futuristic buildings and dwellings. They sold these places to the super-rich and kept it secret. They were so happy and secretive, they didn’t have children and the secret died out. We discovered some clues to how to find and activate the wormhole. What you think?”

“Yeah, and there’s a cabal trying to stop us,” says Teddy.

“Sounds good to me,” says Luchinda. “I’ll wrestle the entire cabal of selfish bad guys so we can live happily ever after. Won’t I honey?” she says to Woody, pushing out her full lower lip.

“I’m in,” says Woody. “What do we do next?”

Miss Blue says, “Now, you each get to draw cards from your own decks to create your characters. Shuffle, if you want, then turn over your top card. That will be your character’s focus.”

Woody's asking Luchinda if she shuffled her cards because she has drawn three Jacks in a row

Character

Focus: Teddy and I both got spades which is Wisdom, makes sense, Woody got a heart which is empathy, not sure about that. I guess it’s a character not him– but Luchinda drew a club which means strength, a little on the nose, so now I’m wondering about Woody.

Motivation: This time I matched with Woody: We are both motivated by honor. I mean, our characters are, I mean, we drew clubs. Teddy got a heart which is Love and Luchinda drew a diamond which is money. Woody couldn’t stifle a chuckle at that. Luchinda knocked his hat off. He left it off. I like his bald head.

Light:We each got a different suit which should be good for game play: I got clubs, Woody diamonds, Luchinda hearts, Teddy spades. So my good is that I’m talented, Woody is Affluent (I don’t think that’s true, but he is secretive), Luchinda is Generous (that made everyone laugh, I mean, she is in spirit) and Teddy is Perceptive which everyone knows is true.

Darkness: As for our dark sides, Woody and I are both obsessed, Luchinda is violent (really, it’s like her character is just her), and Teddy is greedy.

So now we get to state three things about our character’s first impression and name them.

Final Details

We chat for a while then Miss Blue gets our attention and says, “Okay, so tell us the name of your character and three things we would notice upon first impression. Woody, why don’t you start.

Woody loosens his tie slightly and says, “His name is Ottis Caldwell, he’s an art historian who is also an activist. His cause is human equality and thinks everyone should have access to space travel, not just the super-rich. Three things that people notice about him right away, are the stains and paints on him because he is always cleaning art or making art. He often smells of turpentine. And he drives a fancy sports car that seems incongruous with his beliefs and activities, but belonged to his father and he tends to it obsessively.”

Everyone  claps, “Maria, tell us about your character,” Miss Blue says.

I look at my notes and feel nervous for some reason. “Dr. Estelle Jetland is a professor of Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology and often consults and works with NASA. She is fascinated with wormholes. She often seems like she’s not listening when you talk to her, but her eyes shine and her whole body appears to vibrate when she gets excited by an idea. People are often surprised that a physics professor has such a beautiful singing voice and can play so many instruments. When she becomes interested in something, she will obsessively research it until she has read everything there is to find on the subject. Teddy is her post doc assistant.

Teddy clears his throat. “Uh, yes. My character is an astrophysicist named Dr. Björn Bernstein. He is doing his post doc with Dr. Jetland at Florida Tech. People don’t really notice him because he always has his head in his work, but what they do notice is he’s quiet, but when he does speak–”

“Boring,” Lucinda interrupts. “I’m a bad ass mercenary named Natalia Bash. First off, I’m gorgeous, tall and lean, but second, every bit of me is muscle. Third, I’m gruff, and confident and nobody messes with me. Right. Where’s my leather jacket? There. Now, let’s play!”

choosing our characters

Planning For #NaNoWriMo: Plotting with Tarot

Koscej Nesmrtni by Ivan BilibinThis will be my third adventure into National Novel Writing Month. My first two were “wins” as in I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days, however, they have stayed in their not-quite-fully-realized draft state since their conception and that is not what I hope for this year’s novel.

Like my very first novel, this idea somewhat landed on my doorstep. Well, more like it showed up for my dad in the garage. I’ve been thinking about it for months and it has turned into a twisted saga of super-fun proportions.

Because it has more twists and turns, characters and settings than my previous work, I wanted to approach it in a new way. I have decided to add a little more plotting to my plantser and try something completely out of my element.

Plotting your novel using the Tarot

Before last week, I had never had a Tarot deck; I had no idea what any of the cards meant and I would have never imagined using the cards. However, I was reading Jumpstart Your Novel by Mark Teppo which talked about plotting with the Tarot and my writing buddy was talking about using Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book by Arwen Lynch to plan her NaNoWriMo novel, so I came up with an idea.

I found printable color your own tarot cards on Tarot Taxi and decided to create my own tarot deck. I love symbolism and as I go through the month, using the cards to plot my novel, I plan to artistically collage them with my own imagery.

If you’re not interested in coloring and creating your own cards and would like to buy a deck, you may want to look at some of these Tarot cards.

To learn the meanings and interpretations of my cards, I went to Psychic Library.com while I waited for some library books that I put on hold.

Making the cards

Making the hanged man

What I used:

printed black and white card images
scissors
glue sticks
a ruler
a pencil
scrapbook papers
decorative sticker paper

I cut a selection of scrapbook papers to 1/2″ larger than the tarot images on all four sides then cut out and glued the images onto the papers. I let the images choose which paper design worked best with them.

For the laminated backing I chose to cut different portions of Victor Bilibin’s painting of a Knight who hacked off the heads of a three headed dragon. I love the colors and had a bunch of stickers to recycle.

hanged man back

I watched some YouTube videos on learning the meaning of the cards and how to do a reading while I made all the cards. In Jumpstart Your Novel by Mark Teppo it shows how to use the Celtic Cross spread to plot scenes in your novel. Here is my first reading.
My first celtic crossThough it looks like I might not have shuffled by the amount of wands and swords in the reading, I assure you I shuffled a ton. The cards actually make sense for my character and my story. I was pretty impressed.

I’ll be doing both the Celtic Cross readings and The Hero’s Journey reading from Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book by Arwen Lynch throughout NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo Inspiration

So what do I have planned to stay motivated this year? All sorts of fun stuff. I learned from #Writober that I like combining lots of different prompts, so every day this month, I’ll be providing visual prompts, word prompts, poetry prompts, a poem, a tarot card reading, writing exercises and everything else that I find inspiring.

This year I donated to NaNoWriMo and received a prompt poster. Many of the prompts are geared more toward short stories, but some of them will make their way into my daily posts. I also bought the Writer Emergency Pack which is a deck of cards with prompts that I’ll be mixing in.

Like #Writober I’ll have specific headings that I’ll repeat every day and a daily poem. Unlike #Writober, the days will not be random. I have a plot-structure method to my madness. Each day will follow the Hero’s Journey and I will also try to map it to the story beats of Save The Cat! and the Simple Tasks of Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days.

I have pulled out all of my references for this (literally; the house is a mess) and will be pulling inspiration from all my favorite resources. If you like something I’m referencing, it will most likely have come from one of the books in the list below. Click the link, and get yourself a copy to enjoy all year long.

Bibliography:

Books on Writing: These are the books I’ll be using and referencing this month.

Jumpstart Your Novel by Mark Teppo
Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book by Arwen Lynch
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Readers by Barbara Baig
Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden
Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction (Creative Writing Essentials) from the Editors at Writer’s Digest
Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell
Writing for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate the Reader from Beginning to End by Karl Iglesias
Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne
The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Anderson
Building Better Plots by Robert Kernen
Writing for Self Discovery: A Personal Approach to Creative Writing by Myra Schneider and John Killick
Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer
This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosely

Books on Tarot

The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life by Jessa Crispin
The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols by Angeles Arrien
Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer
Tarot Beyond the Basics: Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Meanings Behind the Cards by Anthony Louis

Reference Books

The Elements of Style 4th edition with revisions by William Stunk Jr. and E. B. White
The Wrong Word Dictionary: 2,000 Most Commonly Confused Words by Dave Dowling
The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers (6th Edition) by Chris M. Anson
A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Robert A. Schwegler

Fiction: Don’t forget to pick out some good books to read in November! I picked:

A Man Called Ove by Frederic Backman
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
The Hiding Place by David Bell

Happy Reading and Writing!

I hope you’ll join me and find lots of inspiration here at Experience Writing!