Vision: A Resource for Writers
Mind Mapping Your Plot
is my least favorite part of the writing process. By the time I've developed my
characters and built my world, I want to sit down and write. Unfortunately, I am
not a skilled enough organic writer to get my characters from start to finish
without some sort of outline. For that reason I develop a mind map.
mapping can be a powerful plotting tool for visual thinkers. To me, the biggest
benefit of a plot mind map is being able to see my story on a single sheet of
paper. I can see concurrent events side-by-side, and I can see how each plot
element ties into the whole with a glance.
a quick reference guide is not the only benefit a plot mind map provides. A good
mind map can:
1. Help you pin down what your main characters know
and what they need to know for a successful plot resolution. If I develop a mind
map before I start writing, I find my characters making fewer leaps of godly
logic in the first draft. This helps when it is time to revise.
2. Help you keep track of your secondary characters'
knowledge and motivations. I depend on this aspect of mind mapping when I use
first-person perspective. My narrator does not always know what drives my
secondary characters, but I need to in order to keep everyone in character.
3. Help add layers to a linear plot. As you map, you
will find natural points where subplots can begin and end. I find this aspect of
mind mapping particularly helpful when it comes to managing my subplots. It is
very easy to see dangling threads when, on your mind map, a plot element does
not connect to a resolution.
any other plotting method, you can tailor mind mapping to meet your needs. When
I only have a vague idea of my plot, I start at step 1. When I have a clear idea
of my plot, I skip down to step 8.
1. Start with a blank piece of paper. At the top (or
left if you prefer to work in landscape), write down the starting event for each
of your characters and circle it. At the bottom (or right), write down your
2. Ask yourself how you can get your characters from
the beginning to the end. What is the most direct path? Write down the major
plot elements and circle them. Be sure to leave enough room between circles for
additional notes. If your characters are under time constraints, make note of
when each major event needs to happen.
3. Consider what your characters need to progress
from step to step. Do they need to go to Old Man Johnson for a magic key? Write
that down off to the side between the two plot points and circle it.
4. Start to connect your plot elements together.
Follow each side quest through to its resolution.
5. Now it's time to have some fun. Look at your
connections. Are your characters having an easy time getting what they need?
Unleash your inner Evil Overlord and thwart your characters' plans. Consider
what can go wrong at each step. Then ask yourself how your characters will
respond. Let them wander across the page trying to find resolutions to their
6. By this point, your paper should be a mess of
circles and problems. Your path from start to finish is probably buried
underneath overlapping lines and multiple sub quests. Give yourself some
distance from your brainstorming. I usually set my messy mind map aside for a
few hours to a day.
7. When you've had enough distance, read over what
you've done. Have a highlighter or different colored pen handy. Mark the most
promising challenges and plot threads.
8. Pull out a fresh piece of paper. Go back to your
starting events, but don't write them down yet. Instead take a step back and use
the top of your fresh sheet of paper to give your story context. What that
context is can vary depending on your story and your needs. For example, in my
mind map of Deceptions, a first-person fantasy/mystery blend, I used the events
leading to one of my secondary character's involvement in the story as context.
Not only do the events serve as a reminder that Deceptions is only one story in
a large world, but they also helped me keep my secondary character's actions
consistent with her character.
9. Once you have your story's context, start walking
through your plot in chronological order, circling your plot elements and
connecting them with arrows as you work down the page. Be sure to leave some
space around each event so you can add notes to yourself as you write.
10. When you are done, take a moment to make sure the
events flow they way you want them to. At this stage, I usually number the
events in the order I think they will appear in my narrative. Also check for any
dangling plot threads and glaring plot holes. Now you get to move on to the
really fun part -- writing!