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Mind Mapping for Writers: Plotting Stories and Fleshing Out Details


Whether crafting novels, short stories, screenplays or other narrative works, writers face the challenge of organizing a coherent plot and fleshing out details. It can be immensely difficult to juggle characters, timelines, settings, themes and structure in your head alone.

This is where mind mapping comes in. Mind mapping provides writers with a powerful technique for visually outlining plot elements, relationships between characters, story timelines, settings and other components. The maps unlock creativity and new connections as you craft your narrative.

This comprehensive guide explores leveraging mind mapping strategies throughout the writing process. We will cover:

  • Benefits of mind mapping for storytelling and writing
  • Step-by-step instructions on creating story mind maps
  • Tips for structuring effective story planning mind maps
  • Mind mapping tools for writers
  • Strategies to use mind mapping when drafting and revising
  • Real-world examples of writer mind maps

By the end, you’ll have actionable tactics to incorporate mind mapping into your writing practice – helping you organize complex narratives and unleash creative possibilities.

Why Writers Should Mind Map

Mind mapping offers several key benefits that support creative writing and storytelling:

Visualize Plot and Structure

Seeing the plot, characters, timeline, settings mapped out illuminates opportunities and gaps.

Develop Story Elements and Relationships

Branches allow you to riff on backstories, motivations, relationships between characters.

Unlock Creativity and New Connections

The visual format kickstarts creativity as you see new associations between elements.

Maintain Overview of Complex Stories

A mind map anchors you at 30,000 feet as story complexity grows.

Identify Themes and Symbolism

Mapping reveals opportunities to layer in themes, symbols, and motifs.

Keep Track of Continuity and Timelines

You can annotate logical sequences and passage of time across branches.

Outline Long Works by Chapter

Mind maps provide an outline to plot novels and books by chapter.

Collaborate With Co-Authors

Co-create mind maps to align on narrative elements and divide up writing.

Let’s now dive into step-by-step guidance on mind mapping your stories.

How to Create a Story Mind Map

Follow this process to incorporate mind mapping into your writing practice:

1. Identify Core Story Elements

Think through main characters, settings, time period, themes. These will become main map branches.

2. Map Out Beginning, Middle, End

Sketch out basic story timeline – key events, turning points, climax across three acts.

3. Flesh Out Characters and Relationships

Expand on each character’s backstory, motivations, personality traits, quirks, relationships on their branches.

4. Add Settings Details

Capture details related to settings like seasons, eras, locations, physical spaces, decor, ambience, objects.

**5. Explore Themes and Symbols **

Identify potential themes and ideas to explore and symbols to represent them across the story and characters.

6. Visualize Sequence of Events

Clarify timeline and sequence of events. Use connectors like arrows or numbered nodes to show logical flow.

7. Identify Scene Ideas

Brainstorm compelling scenes that bring plot points, characters and settings to life. Capture vivid sensory details.

8. Iterate on the Map as Drafting Progresses

Continuously add to the mind map with new ideas, details, connections as you write first draft.

9. Review Map to Evaluate Consistency

Use completed mind map to cross-check draft for continuity errors, gaps in timeline, inconsistent details.

Referring to a mind map helps maintain an integrated view as you bring your story to life.

Tips for Structuring Story Mind Maps

Keep these tips in mind when mind mapping your narrative:

  • Use central idea as story premise and main genres/themes
  • Structure plot timeline or acts linearly from center or in circular sequence
  • Illustrate character relationships and dynamics with connectors like arrows
  • Capture character details like motivations, backstory, personality, arcs
  • Use images to represent characters and settings
  • Annotate timeline and sequence where relevant
  • Color code different types of elements like characters, themes, settings
  • Include notes on key objects, symbols, metaphors, imagery
  • Identify high potential scenes connected to plot points and characters
  • Leave space to iterate on branches as drafts progress

Following core mind mapping best practices will lead to optimized story maps.

Recommended Mind Mapping Tools for Writers

Helpful mind mapping tools for outlining and organizing creative writing projects include:

MindNode – Simple, intuitive mind mapping for Mac/iOS with both structured templates and freeform capability.

MindManager – Powerful desktop mind mapping software with toolsets tailored for novel writing.

MindMeister – Web-based mind mapping with real-time collaboration features to co-create story maps.

XMind – Cross-platform mind mapping tool with fishbone diagrams and tree charts to map detailed plots.

SimpleMind – Lightweight mind mapping tool focused on usability for streamlined story scoping.

Coggle – Online mind mapping with freeform look great for nonlinear story outlines.

Scapple – Freeform mind mapping style tool from Literature and Latte, creator of Scrivener.

Lucidchart – Diagramming tool with mind map story templates and plotting shapes.

MiMind – Mind mapping with infinite canvas, great for visually mapping complex story worlds.

Whimsical – Visual collaboration tool with mind mapping options for writers and world builders.

Experiment with these capable tools to find the best fit for your personal mind mapping approach and workflow.

Real World Mind Mapping Examples

Let’s look at a few examples of writers leveraging mind mapping to craft complex stories:

Novel Plot and Character Map

The branches capture main characters, settings, plot timeline with key events, chapter outlines, and character relationship diagrams.

Short Story Mind Map

This mind map outlines a short story premise, themes, timeline, characters, scenes, and ending twist chronologically.

Screenplay Mind Map

The writer captured the story premise, characters, locations, sequence, scenes, and connections between characters visually.

Fictional World Map

This sci-fi writer leveraged mind mapping to sketch out elements of a fictional world including histories, geographies, cultures, Flora and Fauna.

Personal Memoir Map

Key life events, periods, memories, themes and lessons learned are mapped chronologically for crafting a personal memoir.

These examples demonstrate how mind mapping assists writers across genres and formats to organize complex stories holistically.

Use Mind Mapping to Outline and Expand Your Drafts

Beyond initial story scoping, mind mapping helps during drafting and revision:

Outline By Chapter – Map detailed chapter outlines flowing from main story timeline branches.

Capture Scene Ideas – Mind map compelling scene details, dialogue snippets, sensory descriptions under plot point branches.

Track Character Arcs – Note how relationships, motivations shift over time on character branches.

Maintain Consistency – Use map to cross-check draft for continuity errors or inconsistencies.

Identify Missing Links – Review map to find gaps in plot, undeveloped characters, and new connections.

Map Settings Details – Use setting branches to brainstorm history, architecture, objects, ambience.

Explore Themes and Symbols – Identify opportunities to layer in motifs and symbolism tied to themes.

Collaborate With Co-Writers – Build/review shared map to align on elements and divide up writing tasks.

Promote Creativity – Let maps spark new directions, layers of complexity, associations as drafts progress.

Mind mapping fuels both high-level narrative structuring and detailed creative expansion as you write your story.

Getting Started Tips for Story Mind Mapping

As you get started with mind mapping your tales:

  • Begin mind mapping short simple stories to get comfortable before tackling complex works
  • Use pen and paper when first drafting maps to stimulate creative flow before going digital
  • Mind map in stages – higher level first, then scene details once core structure is sound
  • Make mind mapping part of your regular writing routine and ritual
  • Review your map frequently as the draft progresses, continuing to evolve it
  • Use mind mapping to identify gaps in unfinished works and brainstorm next direction
  • Share and discuss your maps with other writers and creatives for feedback
  • Leverage mind mapping templates for common plot structures as helpful starting points
  • Customize organizational approach over time to suit your personal writing process

While initially challenging, with regular use mind mapping becomes second nature for writers. Unlock your storytelling potential with mind mapping!

In Summary

In summary, mind mapping is a game changing technique for writers and storytellers. Mind mapping empowers organizing complex narratives with deep layers of interconnected details in a format your brain intuitively comprehends.

Bring mind mapping into your next writing session to enhance your outlining, planning and brainstorming. Use it to maintain an integrated view throughout drafting and revision. Adopt mind mapping as a core creative aid to craft richer, more immersive tales that truly transport your readers.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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