Developing Your Characters Using Tarot and Astrology


Create characters with depth with these tools

By January James

Characters are the heart and soul of our stories; however, not everyone relishes the task of developing them. Some of us prefer to focus on landscapes, sexual tension, and dramatic plot twists. What we sometimes need reminding of, though, is once we have a fully fleshed out character, the rest of the story comes more easily. Characters with depth from the outset will tell you exactly how they respond to challenges and opportunities, making them more authentic, believable and, importantly, relatable.

Character development need not be a chore. There are lots of tools out there to inspire you, but none, I believe, are as effective or thorough as astrology and the Tarot.

Before you dismiss these potential tools as New Age nonsense, hear me out. You don’t need to be seeking reassurance, spiritual nourishment, or a crystal ball-esque glimpse into the future to find these tools helpful. You don’t even need to be a “believer.” What you do need is an open mind and the willingness to try something different to achieve your goals and grow.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

What Is the Tarot?

The Tarot is a tool traditionally used for divination purposes. It comprises a deck of seventy-eight cards split into two Arcanas: Major and Minor. Contrary to popular belief, the tarot does not allow us to predict the future. What it does is give us the tools to consider a particular situation from different perspectives, so we may tap into our intuition and choose the best path. At its most basic, the tarot offers descriptions of a vast array of human characteristics, beliefs and behaviors, coupled with outside influences, that may impact us in some way.

How to Use the Tarot in Character Development

In the Tarot card deck, there are twenty-two Major Arcana cards and fifty-six Minor Arcana cards, each serving very different functions. The Major Arcana is concerned with the things that drive us—our thoughts, actions, and behaviors—and can be used to interpret our individual psychology, philosophies, professional lives, finances, and well-being.

For example, The Empress is the personification of beauty, grace, and charm. She is harmonious, creative, and loves luxury. On the flip side, she may gain power through her love affairs, endearing herself to bad people by giving them what they desire. The Empress is overly concerned with the superficial and has a tendency to take the path of least resistance. She may live a “charmed life” with great wealth, but her health can suffer through overindulgence. Do you see how a number of conflicts can be created from this character profile alone? And that’s without combining it with other cards in the deck. The potential to explore different facets of your characters with the Tarot is extraordinary.

The Minor Arcana deals with everyday events and is split into four “suits”:

  • Wands correspond with the element of fire and represent physical energy and action;
  • Cups correspond with the element of water and represent feelings and emotions;
  • Pentacles correspond with the element of earth and represent material gains and practicalities;
  • Swords correspond with the element of air and represent thoughts and intellect.

These can be used to generate plot and series ideas by suggesting scenarios you could throw at your characters. For example, the Ace of Cups represents fertility, pregnancy, and spiritual awakening. Each of these topics could bring a fresh dilemma or twist to your characters’ journeys. The Five of Swords represents winning the battle but not the war. It can indicate dishonesty or rejoicing in others’ failures. The Six of Wands represents a person who has made it through an argument or battle of wills and come out the other side advanced in some way. The Four of Pentacles represents someone who is frugal, possibly even selfish, with their assets. That person will have their reasons for being so, but it doesn’t change the fact their behavior impacts others.

There are myriad ways to use the Tarot, but I will walk through two of the most basic and perhaps most useful.

  1. Character profiling
    You may have a basic character profile in mind but want inspiration to develop greater depth through strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. If so, choose the card from the Major Arcana that most closely matches your basic character outline, and read the interpretations to get ideas for building that character. For example, you may have a career-obsessed, ruthless and determined male protagonist, but you want to dive deeper into his inner motivations. A character like this values status and materials. Should something happen to his home or land, he would have a strong reaction. There’s a tendency to overwork, develop stress-related illnesses, and neglect relationships in the pursuit of professional perfection. Each of the Major Arcana cards explores different facets of particular traits, and it’s worth looking through several texts to access a broad variety of interpretations and ideas.

  2. Plot and series development
    This is where a spread can be incredibly useful. A spread is a laid-out formation of cards that allows you to look at a situation from different angles and at different stages of a timeline. There are several popular spreads, but I’m going to talk you through the one I believe offers the most value for plotting.

The Celtic Cross

This spread explores a situation from the perspective of the foundation or cause; the positive and negative energies influencing it; surrounding influences; past and possible future outcomes; and the overall effect on the character.

  1. Choose a card that most closely represents the character or situation, and place this face up as your card 1.
  2. Shuffle the deck, keeping in mind the question or challenge you need to address.
  3. Cut the deck and choose a number between one and seven. Whichever number is chosen, pick nine cards with that spacing. For example, if you choose “five,” take every fifth card and lay them out face down in the formation outlined. One by one, turn the card and read it’s interpretation in light of where in the formation it appears:

    1. Present driving force or situation
    2. What is holding the character back?
    3. Conscious influences
    4. Unconscious influences
    5. Future result of past actions and energies
    6. What in the past has shaped the present situation?
    7. Character’s state of mind and how it is influencing the situation
    8. Others’ opinions and actions and how they are influencing the situation
    9. An unforeseen influence that will bring about the final outcome
    10. The final outcome—a feeling, moment or event

What Is Astrology?

Let me start by saying there is way more to astrology than the weekly horoscopes we see in magazines and newspapers. True astrology is the study of the planetary environment at the point at which we were born. In much the same way a plant will develop certain characteristics and thrive or wilt in certain environments, we are viewed by astrologers as being born with certain characteristics as determined by the location of the planets at our time of birth, and we will thrive or wilt in certain conditions that don’t correspond well with our astrological makeup.

Astrology is a tool to help us understand where we are starting from and how we can grow and develop ourselves to achieve the life we want. It does this by presenting interpretations of not only the various signs our planets can fall into, but the planets themselves and the houses they reside in at the point of our birth.

Think of it this way: The planets represent how we express ourselves (the Sun), how we react to situations (Moon), how we think (Mercury), how we behave physically (Mars), our relationships with others and the material world (Venus). The signs inform the way in which we demonstrate those aspects of ourselves. For example, someone with a Moon in Cancer might respond to situations good and bad with a high level of emotion. In addition, the houses of our chart represent our attitude towards different aspects of our lives—our health, routines, dreams, education, family life, and so on.

How to Use Astrology in Character Development

Astrology can be used in a very basic manner by simply taking a sign and using various interpretations of it to shape and give depth to your characters. If you want to take it further, however, astrology provides an incredibly sophisticated set of tools to help you do this. Signs make up only part of an individual’s birth chart. An accurate reading can’t be given without the following: the planets which fall into those signs; the houses in which the planets are located; and the aspects that are formed between the planets and the relationship those have with the corresponding signs and houses. For the purpose of simplicity, we will look at how an understanding of signs, planets, and houses can help with our character development.

When to Use Astrology


When You Already Have a General Idea of Your Character Type

Begin by choosing one of the four elements. If your character is extroverted, determined and exuberant, choose fire. If they are grounded, stubborn or homely, choose earth. If they are thoughtful, “up in their head,” or flighty, choose air. If they are caring, emotional or creative, choose water. Then look at the signs that correspond with that element to explore other characteristics.

For example, your character may be a determined, strong-willed, outspoken woman living in an era of restriction such as the Regency period. These characteristics correspond with the element of fire. Look at the interpretations for Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. Make note of where they are happiest, what their positive attributes are, but also, how they behave under pressure or when not given the freedom they so desire. Aries, for example, might lash out with a verbal rant; Leo might look down on the perpetrator and point out their weaknesses; Sagittarius might run away or otherwise neglect her responsibilities.

The Signs

  • Aries (fire): Adventurous, pioneering, enthusiastic and quick-witted. Potentially selfish, impulsive and impatient
  • Taurus (earth): Patient, loving, reliable and grounded. Potentially jealous, possessive, greedy and inflexible
  • Gemini (air): Lively, communicative, witty and intellectual. Potentially tense, nervous, superficial and inconsistent
  • Cancer (water): Emotional, intuitive, imaginative and loving. Potentially moody, overly sensitive and clingy
  • Leo (fire): Enthusiastic, expansive, regal and generous. Potentially bossy, intolerant and patronizing
  • Virgo (earth): Meticulous, analytical, practical and modest. Potentially overcritical, conservative and perfectionist
  • Libra (air): Diplomatic, fair, easy going and peaceful. Potentially indecisive, gullible and self-indulgent
  • Scorpio (water): Emotional, forceful, passionate and magnetic. Potentially jealous, resentful, secretive and obsessive
  • Sagittarius (fire): Optimistic, independent, intellectual and honest. Potentially careless, irresponsible and tactless
  • Capricorn (earth): Ambitious, disciplined, patient and reserved. Potentially pessimistic, miserly and rigid
  • Aquarius (air): Original, inventive, independent and humanitarian. Potentially contrary, unpredictable and detached
  • Pisces (water): Selfless, compassionate, intuitive and imaginative. Potentially idealistic, weak-willed and easily-led

When You’re Starting with a Completely Blank Page

Create your character’s birth chart! For this, you will need some understanding of the planets and houses. I have only included fast-moving planets here as these have more personal impact, whereas the slower moving planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto) have more of a generational influence.

The planets

  • Sun: Vitality, self-expression, our core makeup
  • Moon: Attributes we inherit from our parents, how we instinctively react to situations
  • Mercury: How our minds work, how we communicate and make decisions
  • Mars: Physical energy levels, assertiveness, competitiveness and sex drive
  • Venus: How we relate to others, and our attitudes towards money and possessions

The houses

  • Psychological motivation and well-being
  • Security, possession and feelings
  • Early education, siblings and also the environment
  • Home and family life, especially the mother
  • Creativity, children, pleasure and love affairs
  • Health and well-being, daily routines
  • Personal and professional partnerships, including marriage
  • Sex life, endings and beginnings, inheritance and investments
  • Dreams and ideals, travel and higher education
  • Ambitions, aspirations and recognition
  • Friends, social life and local community
  • Escapism, spirituality and seclusion

How to Create Your Birth Chart

First, write the names of each sign and each planet on individual pieces of paper and put them into two cups. Draw one piece from the sign cup. That will be your character’s “ascendant” sign, which falls across the first and twelfth houses. This will determine where you map out the remaining signs.

Using a blank chart like the one here, place the ascendant sign in the outer ring crossing the first and twelfth houses. Write in the remaining signs counter-clockwise in correct formation as outlined above.

Next, draw a planet and a sign from each cup. Flip a coin for the house position (the signs span two houses, so you need to pick one). Write the planet into the chosen sign and house on your chart. Continue this until you’ve exhausted all planets and signs, and you have a complete birth chart. Then, you can start interpreting. Get ready to be surprised!

An example of an interpretation might be: a character with Mars in Aries in the tenth house will approach their professional dreams and goals (tenth house) assertively and with the sole intent to win (Mars), in a typical Arian way—enthusiastically and impulsively.

For good quality interpretations, there are tons of texts and resources available, but I highly recommend Parkers’ Astrology and Modern Day Tarot Play as well as a free resource,

January James is a 2022 national award-nominated British author who writes about love worth fighting for. She lives with her husband, daughter and dog in rural south east England.