The Mind Map – Give your ideas a visual form: Novel Writing Prep Series
You have your idea. You’ve done your research. You know something about your main character. Maybe you’ve even taken a crack at your first scene. And now you’re stuck… All those plot points we talked about in the 3 or 4-part narrative structure? You’re having trouble coming up with plot points. You just aren’t finding the ideas that you need to carry this project through to a finished novel. This is when the Mind Map becomes a useful tool for writers.
I use mind maps for everything. In spite of the fact that I love fancy software and organization techniques, some days I feel trapped by the confines of my computer screen. I need to break free – really give my right brain some room to move around. Remember that group work that you did in junior high? When your English teacher forced you into a group with four other people and said, “On the count of three create a list a of all the things you could use this tongue depressor for. And remember, there are no wrong answers!”
These old-school brainstorming sessions are the genesis for a mind map. The difference is that rather than creating an outline or a simple list, you are going to create a visual representation of your ideas. Here are a few examples:
image via Mind Tools
image via Wikipedia
image via Mind Tools
When you are mind mapping for a novel, it’s just you and the page. You don’t have four other pimple-faced middle schoolers offering up suggestions. Instead the different parts of your brain take the place of all five people in the group. And it’s your job to let all those areas of your brain take over with ideas and to prevent your inner editor from censoring anything. Let’s say you’re creating a mind map about a scene which takes place at 3 a.m. in a deserted pizza parlor. The frontal lobes might throw out very logical descriptions like: benches, pizza ovens, cash register. All very useful things to help you add detail later. Bracca’s area of the brain takes over and allows you to translate those thoughts to words on the page. Then the Parietal lobes jump in and throw a bunch of sensory words at you: the cheese smells like burnt toast after your neighbor walked on it with his bare feet, the light shining on the water glass looks like sunlight reflecting in the glassy eye of a taxidermied trout. You get the gist… All of those things need to go down on your mind map.
Then the fun part begins. I use the 5 W’s. Who, where, when, why and What if? What if the MC character wasn’t alone in the pizza parlor? I create an idea bubble and put down emotions, actions… anything that comes to mind. What if the mysterious person in the pizza parlor was the MC’s driver’s education teacher moonlighting as a pizza chef? Why does the teacher need to moonlight? What if he lost all of his wages because he has a gambling problem? Where did this gambling take place? What if he started an underground cock fighting club in the basement of the school? Who would attend? What if the other teachers were involved? What if the physics teacher lost her prize rooster in the last fight? What if the driving teacher was secretly in love with the physics teacher?
You get the idea. By using a mind map, I’ve created lots of bubbles that make up a key scene in the story. By looking at my lines I can see that the physics teacher bought her rooster from the rural route bus driver whose chickens have been inbred over time to create a race of super roosters. I can see that our MC takes classes from three of the teachers involved in the ring. How will these connections play into our MC’s goal of saving the school and making sure that the driver’s ed. teacher and the physics teacher find true love?
Or maybe you’ll find that everything you’ve written down is rubbish which won’t ultimately contribute to the good of your story. Until… you glance over at that bubble in the left side of the page. You’ve created another character in your mind map notes. A teenage girl who comes in to clean the pizza ovens in the middle of the night. Using the 5 Ws, you’ve speculated that maybe she comes in at 3 a.m. because she spends her days taking care of a sick mother. Hmm… Now this could interesting.
The point is that after less than 10 minutes throwing some thoughts down on paper, I have several reasons that my main character could be in the pizza parlor at three o’clock in the morning. I have the makings of several interesting characters, and I have some sensory items I can weave into my scene.
Next time you’re stuck in your writing, grab a blank sheet of paper. Maybe even some markers or colored pencils if you want to get really fancy. Start in the middle of a blank page, writing or drawing the idea you intend to develop. This could be a scene, a character or simply a theme you want to build upon. Let your mind wander and see where it takes you. You just might end up with a “map” that leads you in new directions.
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