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Posts from the ‘mind maps’ Category

Visual Thesaurus for the Right-Brained Writer

Stick around for any period of time, and you’ll learn that I’m a visual person.  I buy books based on their cover. I buy cereal based on the box design (this sometimes leads to disgusting forays into cardboard-like spheres floating in my milk.)  I forgo the use of a Favorites folder in Internet Explorer or Firefox because I’m so in love with the slick design and visual kaleidoscope of Pinterest.

As much as I have my left-brained tendencies (anal about work organization, a perfectionist when it comes to household projects), my juices really get going when the right brain kicks into gear.  If I’m stuck on a problem, there is nothing better than a blank sheet of paper and 20 minutes of free flow writing or mind mapping.  Imagine how delighted I was when I stumbled upon a thesaurus that gives me a visual representation of my synonyms and antonyms.

I give you the Visual Thesaurus:

This program is a word playground.  You can see above, I typed in “bold” and it returned a full map of words.  The colored dots at the end of a branch indicate whether the word is a noun, adjective, verb or adverb.  To the right you can see definitions for the word.  Click on the megaphone symbol and you can hear the word pronounced.  Visual Thesaurus will even define and provide adjectives for proper nouns.

On the left, the program provides a word history so that while you are playing with the word “sausage blimp” you can always go back to your search for “reverberance.”  You can even create favorite word lists and name them.  See a word that looks interesting on the map? Just drag and drop it to your word list so that you don’t forget it.

Visual Thesaurus has myriad uses in a writer’s life.  The obvious? Find just the right word for the sentence.  Warning: don’t use this to overcomplicate things!  You’ve decided that your character is “bold.”  Bold doesn’t feel right because she’s not “fearless and daring.”  But don’t look at the list and throw in “temerarious” just because it sounds cool.  Maybe “bold” doesn’t have quite the right shade to fully describe your character.  Maybe it’s her careless unconcern that makes her “reckless” not “bold.” Or maybe she’s not “bold,” but “emboldened” because she recently became “fearless” but hasn’t always been that way. Writing is all about the subtle shades of language and words.  The Visual Thesaurus can help you pinpoint those shades.

The more “temerarious” use? (Did you see how I did that there?) Use the Visual Thesaurus to build layers in your scene.  After you’ve written a scene, pinpoint the key emotion swirling around the action.

Donald Maass says in Writing 21st Century Fiction:

“To deliver a strong effect to your readers, you’ve first got to give yourself permission to go big. Big feelings aren’t bad; they’re just big. We all have them.  They’re dramatic. They connect. The only time they don’t is when they’re false: rote, hackneyed, pasted on or unearned. Think of them as primary emotions that take on unique hues in the heart of your main character. Love? Sure, but different this time. Rage? Never before like this one. Sorrow? Yes, but now utterly specific.”

Make a list of other words that can add subtle layers to increase the tension in the scene.  Here’s an example.  Maybe your character is “angry.”  Let’s type in “angry” and make a list:

  • Sore – “Causing misery or pain; hurting; an open skin infection”
  • Tempestuous (i.e., tempest) – “A violent commotion or disturbance”
  • Smoldering – “Showing scarcely suppressed anger”
  • Indignant – “Angered at something unjust or wrong”
  • Wrathful – “Condemnatory”

You can see from the list above that “angry” has many hues.  What type of anger is your character experiencing?  If you find just the right word to define the type of anger, you can build the scene around those hues and make your character’s anger uniquely her own.

Pretty amazing that you can do all this with a simple online program that costs $19.95/year.  Or $2.95/month.  Sure, you could open up your 15 lb. Roget’s Thesaurus, but for me seeing the visual connections between words and the ease with which I can click on a new word and follow it down a separate rabbit hole is priceless.

You can check out the details of Visual Thesaurus here:

Online –

Twitter – @VisualThesaurus

Facebook –

Nope.  I wasn’t paid or perked for this write-up.  I plunked down my own $19.95 to gain access to Visual Thesaurus. When I love a program, I simply want to share the love with others.

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The Mind Map – Give your ideas a visual form: Novel Writing Prep Series

You have your ideaYou’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.

**Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for the Scrivener for Microsoft Windows software.  I have three (3) licenses up for grabs.  Visit this post for more details.**

Happy writing!

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