Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Using a Mind Map To Build An Idea

By Cindy Clark
Copyright 2009 by Cindy Clark, All Rights Reserved

I've found that using a mind map, either a computer program version or on paper, is a quick way to bring out ideas that might be lurking in the back of my mind. Sometimes is a nice change of pace to pull out a large sheet of paper and start jotting down ideas on it. I, however hardly use a mind map to build a plot, but rather to flesh out an idea from a single line that could become a story. This is a way you can explore two or three different branches before deciding on what branch the story should take.

If you're using a large sheet of paper, start with your idea in the middle. From there you'll be able to branch out. If you have a mind mapping program, the software can help with this part of the process. There really is no order to follow once you start, but this article will show how I find it easiest to use a mind map. It might take a few tries to find what order you wish to go in, but I tend to bounce from area to area most of the time.

With the idea in the center of your map, I make a branch for characters. Then I start with ideas for characters who might work with the idea I have. Of course you'll need a main character branch. From there add in notes of what kind of main character you want to see in this idea. At this point you don't even need names just random ideas of who these characters could and might be.

As you continue on building you can work on what these characters might have in mind for goals and how they push the idea forward. You might go back and forth between this step and the others as you continue to learn more about the world and the idea itself.

Another branch coming from your main idea can be a place for your world building. This will be the spot for those who are working on a fantasy idea. A place on this branch might be for magic.  Does the world to have it or not, and reasons why.  Do the same for magical creatures. Will the land have any oddities? Anything that will hinder or help the main idea you have? 

If your story is fiction or urban fantasy, this is the time to start looking at a setting and jotting down ideas of where the story would best take place. You can easily do a pro and con list of each idea and later decide which one works best.

An easy next step is a list of what the story needs. Or another way to think of this is what you want the story to have. The story is yours, it's yours to decide what it should and should not have. This can be the place to have a pro and cons list of what the story should and should not have. I add in the 'should not' so you know where you don't want the story to go.

This is also the time to let the idea grow, even if it might be in two or three different directions. Doing so will give you a range of storylines to follow. You might cross some out and some might be longer then the others. Don't worry if the main idea doesn't stay the same by the time you're done. The idea might have needed to change to fit what you wish to write about.

Once you have a list that coincides with your main idea then you'll be able to start another branch. I tend to call this branch the official story line. Taking ideas from the building in the last section and using what you like and stringing those ideas together into something that works. Something that bonds together with other ideas and becomes more then just a story idea as it grows into a plot.

With that done it's time to jot down scene ideas. You might have a few lingering around based on the earlier work, but with a few more can show once you start writing them down. This can be used as a very thin outline line. Each scene idea can be branched out. Adding more detail and finding questions that the scenes bring up.  This is a good thing, because when you go to write or outline you'll have a good foundation to start from.

You can bounce from characters to story lines to world building until everything is as you wish it to be. As you work on each step, things will change; you might find a different character as you work on the story ideas. Or you might find something in the world building that transfers over to the scenes. Even if mind maps like this don't work for you, it might with a few tweaks and changes. You, however, won't know until you try building an idea with a mind map.

Here are some computer programs that deal with mind maps.

You can download a trial of this program for free.

Freemind: This program is free to download.

Or if you want to try this by hand, head to a local craft store and look at the large paper in their art section.