Plotting a book can be daunting. There are as many different methods to plotting as there are books in the world, and no size fits all. If forced to decide, I would say I am not a plotter at all, but that I fall somewhere in between pantsing and plotting.
Mind mapping is one of the techniques I use during my initial brainstorming phase. It’s similar to dumping, where you just write down everything you know about your story already.
With mind mapping, the difference is the way the information is sorted on the page. Ideally, it gives you flexibility to add more ideas as you need, which is perfect for early stage plotting and writing.
So, if you struggle with information overload in the early planning stages of writing, this might be a useful technique to try.
Grab a piece of paper. I like to keep all my notes in one journal, so I can flip through and have an easy reference as I pick up different WIPs. You do you. As long as you have something to write on and with, you can do this. If you are digitally inclined, I suggest Prezi’s online based presentation software to mindmap.
Now write the main premise for your book smack dab in the middle of the page, and doodle a little circle around it. Look, it doesn’t have to be cute. Or pretty. We’re authors, not artists. I mean, some of you all area probably artists too, which is really unfair of you, to be honest.
I landed on mind mapping a ‘Pirate Romance’ for the purposes of this post only. Don’t ask me why, I don’t have a clue how my brain works. Which is why I mind map.
Alright! You have written down your big idea!! Congrats, you’re now a certified plotter. On to writing! Just kidding. Unless… hahaha…
Now you’re going to jot down any ideas you have regarding scenes you want to write. JUST SCENES! And keep them short, one or two words to sum it up.
There are some things I left blank here, and that’s fine! You’re discovering the story as you write down your thoughts. Leave em blank and come back later as you stew on it. Now, I am not writing a Pirate Romance, so coming up with this was a bit harder than normal for me. Hopefully you have an idea of what scenes you want to write and can easily blob them down on paper. When I do this for real I usually have about a dozen or more scene ideas.
You’re going to flesh out these big scene ideas by adding tropes or romance beats or plot A beats in separate, attached bubbles. What kind of things do you want to make sure you include in each scene? These bubbles should answer that question. I put things like, “enemies to lovers” and “close contact sexy times” and “sword chin tip” because if I were writing a pirate romance, you can bet your bottom bullion that I’d be writing it as enemies to lovers. Keep these bubbles separate from each other, and feel free to add as many as you want to the over arching scene bubbles. I used a different color for these.
You can honestly carry this bubbling process out as far as your heart desires. I’m stopping here, because I’m not actually writing this pirate book, which is starting to resemble a certain major franchise film in this mind map. After I do my second set of bubbles, I go back in a different colored marker and add in plot points for the external plot. As a romance writer, I think about romance beats driving the book forward, so I do those first. So when I say external plot, I’m talking about anything that isn’t the romantic relationship. Most of my books have a mystery element, and trying to pants those parts is the pits.
In green, I’ve stuck things like: clue #2, resolution, told in flashback, etc. Any little notes that will help me think about where the story is going.
Once I’m done exponentially increasing your plot bubbles, I take a deep breath, and look at the big buckets of now-sorted brain gloop. Then I uncap a new colored pen, and go to town putting them in numerical order in regards to the plot. What do I want to happen first? What needs to happen next?
Keep in mind that this isn’t set in stone. You are the creator of this world, if you decide later on scene two and three need to be swapped, swap them. But if you make some decisions now, you’ll at least have a framework to build on.
My pantsers out there are ready to go. I can see it in your eyes. Not really though, because I can’t see your eyes. Anyway! I take the mind map out another step and use it to fill in the blanks on a beat sheet. I use Gwen Hayes’s ROMANCING THE BEAT beat sheet, and I take whatever ideas I’ve blobbed onto my paper and finesse them into the beat sheet.
I also like to create character bios for my main characters. I am HORRIBLE about switching between projects, so I need a cheat sheet for all of my books, otherwise Jack is going to be Jake halfway through and magically switch eye colors. In addition to physical components, I like to jot down what their major wound is, how it happened, and what it’s done to them. I usually scribble out a page or two per character.
I’ve also used mind-mapping when I have to do major world-building. Instead of scenes, I jot down things like, government, climate, history, magic/science systems and then bubble out from there.
And that, in a nutshell of a blog post, is how I use mind-mapping for plot! Would this be useful for you?