Thursday, June 27, 2019

Mind Mapping: A Pantser’s Path to Planning

By Orly Konig, @OrlyKonig

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: As a plotter, I’m always impressed by writers who can dive in a wrote a novel with little to outlining beforehand, and not have the story spiral out of control. Orly Konig visits the lecture hall today to share tips on mind mapping and its value—for pantsers and even plotters.

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around her cats. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She’s a book coach and author of The Distance Home and Carousel Beach.

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Take it away Orly…

I don’t plot. I don’t outline. I don’t even do character sketches. Just the thought of that makes me break into hives. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s not a pretty sight.

But here’s the kicker … I’m a planner. I need my lists and organization and knowing what’s coming up next. My brain is always two steps ahead, calculating how to go from here to there, anticipating roadblocks and thinking through potential detours.

You’d think my compulsion to plan would lead to careful plotting of stories. Nope. The control-freak side of me doesn’t know what to do with the squiggly-squirrel side. But I found a solution that makes everyone happy … Mind Mapping.

Mind mapping is a thinking tool that goes with the flow of the thought process rather than forcing those thoughts into linear order. It’s creative and visual and perfect for brains that have a tendency toward the squirrel story threads. I heard it once described as “the little Swiss-army knife for the brain.” That was all I needed!

Here are some pointers that have worked for this squirrel thinker:

Brain dump

The idea behind a mind mapping session is not to detail the story plan but to empty your brain of details for the story. Order doesn’t matter. Whatever comes to mind, whenever it comes to mind, put it down. Link it to other ideas or details as the connections become clear.

At this stage, the items you jot down don’t need to have clear lines to others, but they do need to inspire parts of the story. As you start digging a bit deeper into each one, adding twigs to the higher branch, you’ll discover the significance of that piece to your story and how it relates to the other pieces.

Don’t tie yourself to one way of doing your map. Some people prefer one or two/three-word bubbles. That may work for some branches. But sometimes you may need more detail such as an anecdote between two characters that jumped to mind or a description of an object or place. Everything is fair game!

The more the merrier

When you create an outline for your story, you have one outline. Mind mapping doesn’t have to be just one map per story. You’re not trying to organize your thoughts, you’re releasing them. If one bubble sparks an a-ha moment, give it its own map. See where it takes you.

For the novel I just submitted to my agent, I had several maps. One for the main character, including details about her (physical appearance, job, hobbies, etc.) and the people surrounding her. Another map for setting since it’s as much of a character in this story as the people and animals. And one more for the story threads so I could keep track of how they connect together.

Think of mind mapping as the hot air balloon vision for your story. It takes you out of the forest of details and puts you up high above the treetops, to see the whole of the wooded space and all the cute little story squirrels scampering around in there.

Keep it handy

I write with a printout of the various mind-maps handy. By the time I’m done with my first draft, those printouts are a hot-mess of scribbles where I’ve added details. You know that side character who showed up unexpectedly in chapter 5 and wants another bit part in chapter 23? Yeah, what was his name again? Having the maps right there, saves me from having to search the manuscript for details and gives my brain a hall pass from feeling like a loser because I suddenly can’t remember if the main character’s cousin is Abbey or Abby.

Interestingly enough, I’m a linear writer. I have to start at the beginning and work through to the end of the story. I never fully know the end until I get there. With mind mapping, I get the big picture idea for my story, I have random details and an understanding for how each fits with the others—I have the map to guide me through the forest. I may still veer off the path in pursuit of another squirrel, but I know that to get to the end of my trek, I’ll have to get back to the main path.

There are plenty of mind mapping software options to choose from (some paid, some free, depending on the features you want) or you can freehand with different color markers and a large sheet of paper (or white board). Whatever works best for you. I prefer software that’s easy to drag and drop and move and tweak.

Most mind mapping software have the ability to turn the visual brainstorming into a linear outline. That’s a bonus if you need to turn in an outline (or expand it into a synopsis) to your agent or editor.

If you’re not a plotter but need an organizational tool, give mind mapping a shot. It’s an organic, visual thought process that often appeals to right brainers.

About Carousel Beach

A cryptic letter on her grandmother’s grave and a mysterious inscription on a carousel horse leads artist Maya Brice to Hank Hauser, the ninety-year-old carver of the beloved carousel she has been hired to restore in time for its Fourth of July reopening in her Delaware beach town. Hank suffers from Alzheimer’s, but on his “better” days, Maya is enthralled by the stories of his career. On his “off” days, he mistakes her for her grandmother—his secret first love.

While stripping chipped layers of paint from the old horse and peeling layers of fragmented memories from the old man, Maya untangles the intertwined secrets of love, heartbreak, and misunderstandings between three generations of strong willed women.

You can read the first chapter on the Forge/Tor blog.

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  1. Really enjoyed your post. I'm a linear writer too - so glad to meet another one! I've often tried to draw out my ideas on paper but been frustrated by the paper never being big enough. I've even taped a number of sheets together to create something that nearly covered my kitchen table, but it was pretty unwieldy and not very portable. I honestly didn't know there was such a thing as mind mapping software! Any suggestions on a good one to try?

    1. Orly's having technical issues with the comments, so I'm forwarding her comments :)


      I use MindNode and have been very happy with it. I believe there's a free version although I opted for the paid one based on some of the added features.

      You can also google "mind mapping software" and you'll get a ton of options. They all do pretty much the same thing but some have a few different features. It may be worth checking out a couple -- especially if you can get the free version first -- to see which one suits your needs best.

      Let me know. 🙂

    2. Thanks Orly! I'll check out MindNode and some others as well. And thank you Janice for facilitating the conversation. :)

  2. I'm another. Thanks for explaining it.

  3. Hmm... maybe I should try mind mapping again. Orly, thanks for refreshing my memory on this.

  4. I'm currently trying Scabble to work through ideas...

  5. This is a really valuable tool. I've got a large easel with 3x3" sticky notes all over it and using dry erase o the board to connect them, but the sticky notes move so much it was just unwieldy. No breakthroughs yet but at least I can see the big picture and connect/reconnect at will.

  6. Bless you. I was beginning to believe only Plotter people do blogs. A sone who organizes after blasting out 50 to 60K words of a story, I do a version called a scene map. this often then sparks ah-ha bubbles that fit between and around the raw draft. Or highlights character and world nit-picks.
    Thanks again for being a light in the plotted storm.