Mind maps have been a useful tool for creative folks to brainstorm for quite a while. Remember the old days when you’d draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and draw lines from there to connect your thoughts? It’s much easier today.
Why You Should Use a Mind Map
Brainstorming is a huge part of preparing for any writing project. Mind maps help you capture your creativity in a right-brained manner, by graphically displaying the connections between ideas. If you’re trying to outline a novel (left-brained) and it’s just getting messy, consider trying a mind map first to let the ideas flow naturally.
With a mind map in front of you, ideas will spark and you’ll see connections where you hadn’t before. It’s also a great tool for generating new ideas, like scenes for your story or contrasting character traits.
Using MindMeister to Roadmap Your Novel
I chose MindMeister because it's got great ratings, it’s free, and more importantly, it’s online, so there’s no downloading software or apps. You can access your MindMeister account from anywhere, anytime as long as you have an internet connection.
It’s simple and easy to sign up for a free account. Here’s what mine looks like after giving them my name and email address (click to expand):
Let’s say I have a story idea about an older woman who's unhappy with life choices she made. Here’s how I might start my mind map to get the big picture pieces in place.
Where you go from here is a personal style preference. Do you work on characters or do you try to nail down your plot’s big idea? Whichever way you choose, start brainstorming from the corresponding topic.
I started with characters. Here’s what I came up with.
It took me less than 10 minutes to crank out these character traits and some of the conflicts going on between characters. Notice there are endless connections to make. Think about the mom character above. I can connect other characters to her such as friends or business associates. Oh, or even a dominating mother-in-law. Every story needs one of those.
So you can expand virtually in any direction and connect ideas together. As you fill in ideas about your characters, you’ll generate ideas about your plot and maybe some scenes. You’ll also have some thoughts about the setting, like the main character’s place of business, etc.
Hopefully you can see how a mind map can help you generate ideas spontaneously and creatively.
Repeat For Your Other Topics
Fill in all the details you can think of for setting, plot, and timeline. What you’ll end up with is a huge picture of these four important parts to any novel. Now you can start connecting these parts together.
Let’s say your main character decides to take a solo vacation to think things through. This leads to a new bubble under setting, plot, and even timeline. Do you see how this can grow as you brainstorm?
There’s More Functionality—If You Buy a Plan
If you upgrade to one of MindMeister's monthly plans, you can upload files and images and create unlimited mind maps. There’s a personal plan for individuals that costs $6 per month and gives you extra features that might come in handy when brainstorming your novel.
In particular, if you like to find images of what you want your characters to look like, you can locate pictures online and upload them to your mind map. You can do the same for your story’s setting, finding online images of buildings, rooms, even views from a window to give you inspiration.
There are also business and professional plans that offer even more features such as online collaboration. Since writing is a lonely sport, you might not need to collaborate with someone else. But if you’re writing a novel with someone else, imagine being able to have a Skype call while you create a mind map together.
Do you see the potential of creating mind maps for your novels? Or maybe you already use these amazing tools to brainstorm.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts on mind maps. Let’s get a conversation going about how mind maps can help you create your next break-out novel.