Monday, October 15, 2012

Wordcraft -- Mapping the mind of your story

It was the first ever writers’ conference at Collin College in Plano, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Writing friend Billye Johnson tempted me to attend. Besides being a member of the same novel critique group, Billye is a creative writing instructor at Collin. So when I saw she was leading a workshop on “mind mapping” at the conference, I signed up.

Confession: I had no idea what mind mapping was. But I grab new techniques for my bag of writing tricks the way more normal people grab discounts for the State Fair.

Mind mapping, Billye demonstrated, is an outlining method. Not one specifically for outlining stories, but for outlining information.

I’m including a diagram from wikimedia to illustrate this post, because it’s a lot neater, not to mention more colorful than the one in my notes. (The next time I attend a workshop of Billye’s, I’ll come with a fistful of colored markers.)

The core of the mind map is a concept, phrase or image.

You can map with computer software. But in line with science fiction writer Karl Schroeder’s concept of “exomind” from last Monday -- a physical construct that speaks to us -- I’ll talk about the map as if it’s a doodle on paper.

Beginning with the possibility of writing a nonfiction article, Billye chose a concept from those suggested by workshop members -- ageing. With this word at its core, branches extended to concepts related to aspects of aging -- finances, medical issues, religious issues, social issues, and others.

When we followed the “social issues” branch from the core term “ageing,” we found separate branches for concepts such as “self-image” and “wrinkle.” (I won’t deny this
came from an older member of the group.) Also, “dating” and “activities”, and “finances” and “retirement”. When Billye grouped them, potential articles ranged through cosmetic surgery/techniques, to travel and resorts, to online dating for seniors. Suddenly, there are dozens of article possibilities, all dealing with the core issue of “ageing.”

How about applying mind mapping to fiction? What’s your protagonist’s defining characteristic?  “Altruism,” a workshop member suggested. But how do you demonstrate that quality?

Mind map branches leading from the concept of “altruism” included “generosity,” “idealism,” “loyalty,” “sacrifice,” and “vulnerability.” Toss a few examples of those into your story, and you’ve got your character’s chief trait.

And for the all-important antagonist, think of an opposite for each concept. Or, to make things really fun -- and your protagonist more complex and conflicted -- throw an “opposite” trait into her mix. Happy mind mapping!

(For more about Billye Johnson and her work, see her profile at .)

No comments:

Post a Comment