A couple of years ago, I took a trip to New Orleans with a few fellow authors, and while I was there I was introduced to the concept of mind mapping by one of my cohorts.
What is a mind map? You’ve probably seen one before, you just didn’t realize what it was. According to mindmapping.com, “A mind map is an easy way to brainstorm thoughts organically without worrying about order and structure. It allows you to visually structure your ideas to help with analysis and recall.”
Here’s an example of a mind map drawn by a friend of mine about… wait for it… mind mapping!
The general theory behind mind mapping is that your brain doesn’t work in a linear/logical fashion. Different parts of the brain are responsible for different activities, and we process the world around us by taking in and categorizing everything we experience. By breaking a big topic down into related sub-topics, you’re actually making it easier for your brain to process. And the more parts of your brain you involve, the better.
Sometimes mind maps are drawn like branches of a tree. Sometimes they’re just clusters of ideas grouped together. Colors link related ideas, which can be a helpful mnemonic device. Yes, mind maps can help you memorize things!
Check out this super cute gingerbread cookie recipe mind map I found. I think it’s in Italian?
Anyway, inspired by my colleague’s colorful mind maps, I immediately set out to make mind maps of my own. I mapped out my writing & publishing goals for the next year. I mapped out character traits and motivations. But, more recently, I started using mind maps as a brainstorming tool for plot & story. (Because in my life, everything I learn tends to turn into ‘how can I use this in/for a book’?)
You see, mind mapping is all about breaking big concepts down into smaller, related concepts. While planning Secondhand Magic #2, I created an Act I map, two Act II maps (I ran out of room), and an Act III map. I was able to create “branches” off of the act for the various plot threads I was keeping track of, and fill them out. It really helped me flesh out Act II and figure out where the investigation part of the plot was going.
I looked through my existing mind maps for various books I’ve written for an example I could share, but they all had massive spoilers. So, instead I created a new one for Early Grave, Chapter One, so you can see my process in action. (Okay, so it’s a little spoilery if you haven’t read it, but everything here is in the free sample on Amazon!)
As you can see, my mind maps are a little different from the “traditional” ones (I am really not much of an artist), but in the end you have to do what works best for you. Usually my subtopics have more branches, but I was working with fairly limited subject matter.
So, next time you’re mulling over something, I encourage you to grab a pen and paper (or a tablet & stylus, which is what I prefer) and go to town. Whether it’s a personal, professional, or scholastic problem, mapping it out might just help you get your thoughts (or the facts) in order.