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Create a Questing Journal for story and world-building

For my National Novel Writing Month project (Nanowrimo), I’m working on my next book—a paranormal thriller with a female protagonist who is a healer. Along the way, she learns new things about her paranormal world. As I create this world, I have many unanswered questions. As my heroine is on a quest, so am I.

As creator of this world, I have to use everything available to me to make my world and story unique. Often what comes out first on the page is top-of-the-head clichés or unoriginal, boring material. When I write fast, as in Nanowrimo, I also want to go deep. One way I do that is in my dreams.

Maybe you’re one of those writers who already uses your dream space. Often, when I’m stuck on anything—writing or otherwise—I’ll go to bed and as I drift off to sleep, I ask a question. Once I wanted to sell a piece of property but wasn’t sure what to list it for. When I went to bed that night, I asked the question and when I woke up in the morning I had my answer—only it was twice the amount of what my realtor had suggested. I went ahead and listed the property at my “dream” price and two days later it sold for that amount. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences), a builder was looking for a piece of property in the area and was pretty much ready to pay anything for it. This experience taught me a lesson in the power of tapping into the subconscious while tuning out the outer clutter.

So, how do I use my dream state in writing my book? First, I created a Questing Journal. I found a beautiful lined journal, The Spirit of Flight Journal, at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference recently, that really spoke to me. The cover is of a beautiful, transcendent woman who reminds me of my protagonist. I have another journal I use for timed writes and I keep computer files for character profiles, plot ideas, etc. But the Questing Journal is only for questions I have about any aspect of my story or world. I even decorated some of the pages with colorful stickers to make it my own.

What questions do I write in my Questing Journal? Here are a few I have so far:

  • How does Caitlin know someone’s an angel? What are the telltale signs?
  • What magical abilities does she have?
  • What does her mother’s voice sound like?
  • How should I end chapter 3?

This last question I asked myself last night as I drifted off to sleep. I had already written an ending but part of me knew it was a little too predictable. I woke up in the middle of the night with an answer that totally surprised me and sent a shiver up my spine. Ultimately, I may not use this ending but for now I am, mainly because it’s exciting. And being excited about your story is the best feeling in the world.

Most importantly, have fun. Create a Questing Journal for any aspect of your life or writing. Keep it by your bedside and open your journal to ponder one of your questions before you drift off to sleep. Don’t worry if the answers don’t come right away. Eventually, they will. And when they do arrive—galloping in on black stallions or drifting down on the feathers of great gray herons—you’ll have your Questing Journal ready to catch the magic.

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