A Mind Mapping ChartMind Mapping 101a

We all know of the two primary methods of writing: Plotting and Pantsing. In Plotting, you methodically plan your story and then build around it. In Pantsing, you write your ideas as they come to you and let the story develop as you go along. However, there is a third way which I discovered only after I’d done it. It’s called Mind-Mapping.

Mind Mapping defined – It’s a visual representation of ideas and words arranged around a central concept. It is a step beyond Plotting. It can be used in planning your day, your week, or your next novel. You can use this system for building your character’s backstory or your plot. It can be used in poetry and even lyric writing.

So let’s get started.

How it works – The process of mind mapping is pretty simple: you let your mind come up with new words or details which relate to your main topic, and you add lines that connection these to the other topics. These tend to spark new ideas, and you just keep adding new lines or connections until you feel like you’ve covered everything you want to say about the topic.

For women, this is the perfect way to visualize how everything in your world (of writing) is interconnected.

For men, who tend to compartmentalize, this system is ideal as it creates boxes in which you can park information related your topics.

There are several ways to create a mind map. The easiest is with a sheet of paper and a pencil. I used a large foam board to form my plot, characters, their relationships and motives. The story related to this Mind Map had a lot of characters and sub-themes and this way I was able to visualize the whole story. In so doing I was able to put down my ideas out without being interrupted by other applications that are running on your computer.

However, you can us an iPad or your PC/laptop as well. Using the iPad instead of your computer can be also simplify the process as multitasking on a desktop or laptop computer can be distracting. The helps you focus on the Mind Map better because it only lets you run one app at a time… you’re essentially forced to be creative. There are tons of great desktop Mind Map applications, and I’ll let you search them out. The app for the iPad is called iThoughtsHD. It’s not a free app, but if you’ve gotten the Mind Map bug, it’s well worth it.


With iThoughtsHD you can export your Mind Maps as PDFs which you can print out for future reference or keep on file for planning purposes. You can also export your Mind Maps into other formats. The great thing about this app is that you can also integrate it with your Dropbox, so you don’t need to plug your iPad in each time you create a new mind map. Your desktop will automatically sync up and download any new maps that you create.

Focusing on Theme in Your Mind Map

The key to brainstorming a strong plot is to explore the themes you want to bring out in your novel. Your characters embody the themes, and you want some character or characters to take one side of an issue and other characters to take an opposing side.

If you’re writing a novel that involves a murder, think about mind mapping that theme and all the various opinions—pro and con—on the issue. Think of the kinds of characters who might be effected by it, and give them a valid reason for it. Ask those “why” questions.

Then, on the map you are creating, make notes alongside each character with ideas about their background and personal history that contribute to that deep-seated belief they have about capital punishment. Maybe one character had a friend who was wrongly accused of murder and was found innocent after years of prison or even being executed. Maybe another character had a child murdered, and the murderer is now free due to some legal loophole.

I hope you can see how characters should be created and grow organically around the premise and themes of the novel you are writing. You can either start with the theme in the middle of the map, or a character you want to embody something regarding the theme.

When You’re Not Sure What Your Themes Are

If your novel isn’t heavy on theme, or you’re not sure yet just what themes will arise (and there always is some theme or other in every novel, even if subtle), write your short premise or pitch in the middle, like this: A man finds a note in a bottle that washed up on a beach, which leads to him finding the love of his life. Okay, that’s a simple plot concept. You know you want to write a romance, so what themes might come through the story line?A Mind Map

Again, draw spokes outward from your premise and brainstorm ideas of theme that could lead to character development. Ask those important questions about core need and deepest fear. What is that man afraid of? Maybe he’s afraid of love. Why? Because his wife died a few years ago and he doesn’t think he will ever be able to love again. Here’s a theme about being able to love again after pain and loss.

Maybe the woman sent an email to someone she in the office whom she wants to take interest in her. Brainstorm that. Where could she be located and what would she be doing that would make it the perfect setting for her to send an email such as that? You may end up with a lot of stupid ideas that don’t work, but by doing this creative mind mapping, you will ultimately come up with some good ones. Let your creativity run amok, and don’t censor the ideas you come up with. Have a few laughs over the silly ones, and dig in deeper as you explore the really great ideas. A great way to find themes is to brainstorm.

One Last Point about Characters

Remember, your main character (and hopefully some of your secondary characters) has to grow and change through the novel. At the end, what they’ve learned showcases your theme. Be sure to generate ideas that relate to this character arc. The spokes connecting to your various characters should include ideas of how your character changes, why she changes, and what things caused her to change. This is important for when you mind map plotting and scenes.