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Mind Mapping Your Story


by Trista Herring Baughman

What is Mind Mapping?

At some point in your school days, you learned about mind mapping. You might have tucked the knowledge away, back in the warehouse of your brain on a dusty shelf, or perhaps you still use it today. If it’s the former, let me refresh your memory.

A mind map is a tool used to visually organize information and knowledge, making connections and improving understanding and retention. It captures and displays your thinking, highlighting relationships among different pieces of information. Mind maps are helpful for many purposes, especially writing.

I’ve used mind mapping for articles since I wrote my first article for Writing from the Peak, but I wasn’t using them anywhere else in my writing. I don’t know how this happened, but once I realized it, I asked myself, “Why?”

To which I responded, “I don’t know…”

Why Mind Map?

When I mind map rather than taking a panster approach of letting the words flow or a plotting approach with an outline, it boosts my creativity. I have all my topics, ideas, and associations in one place, and I’m seeing them take shape.

Once my mind map is complete, I can move on to an outline or merely write, but I have everything out of my head. And that feels good.

How to Mind Map

There are a few ways to go about mind mapping, but I’ll tell you how I do it.

I start with a blank page in my writer’s notebook. Then I begin by drawing a circle and writing down my central idea. I brainstorm relevant keywords and related points, creating links that spread out from the center.

To effectively map out my main idea, I always begin with at least three supporting ideas. From those three, I then generate additional related ideas. It’s important to make sure there’s enough space on the page to avoid clutter and disorganization, but with practice, this process becomes easier.

How Do I Apply Mind Mapping to My Story?

I wish I’d started my current book with a mind map, which is essentially an illustrated outline. I’m a visual learner, so this method suits me better.

However, you can apply a mind map to your story at any stage. It might even help you if you’re struggling with writer’s block.

Begin by placing your title in the center circle of the mind map. Then, add connecting circles for setting, conflict, plot, trope, main character, and other related aspects.

I suggest that you start with 3 or 4 crucial components unless you are using large paper. Remember, there is no limit to the number of mind maps you can create.

After completing the initial setup, proceed to the following circle and repeat the process until you have transferred all your thoughts onto the paper. You can create a mind map for each story, chapter, scene, or any combination that suits your needs.

Now pick one of those 3 or 4 things as a starting point. For instance, let’s start with the ‘Setting’. As you brainstorm, create lines and circles to jot down related keywords and ideas. You may include details like the time (day, month, year, era), the location (England, New York, Outerspace, Prehistoric America, a fictional kingdom, etc.), or any physical descriptions or structures that will appear in your book. You can get as deep into detail as you like. And that goes for any aspect of your mind mapping.

When done with the setting, move on to the next circle, and so on, until you’ve spilled all of the wonderful contents of your brain onto the paper. I keep my complete mind map next to me and either grab a fresh sheet of paper or open a Google Docs document to start writing.

This method is straightforward but effective. If you haven’t tried it yet, it could significantly improve your writing experience. It has been a huge help to me, improving my story-writing process. I find I get my first drafts written a lot faster using mind maps. I hope that this helps you as well, dear reader.

On behalf of Pikes Peak Writers and myself, have a wonderful day!

Trista Herring Baughman is a blogger, the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog,)  and the Managing Editor of Mississippi Folklore, a collaborative collection of Mississippi folklore and legends in a weekly blog. Her books, The Magic TelescopeHalloween Night and Other Poemsand Zombiesaurs (which she co-illustrated with her sons), can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Trista on her website for more info.

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