Navigating the Mind of a Storyteller

Picture this scene. You are lying in bed trying to get to sleep. You just start falling into the land of zzz’s and BOING! An idea has popped into your mind. It is the voice of a character. Just as you try to turn over and fall back asleep, it is already 4am and you have had about 5 minutes of sleep, a picture of the next scene in your WIP pops into your head. The first voice of the character you heard has nothing to do with your current story. Which thread of thought do you follow down the winding road of imagination? The new one or the current one? But what if you want to follow both? How do you choose? None of these thoughts are even that cohesive, just snippets that are invading your sleep-deprived mind. It is not as if they make any sense.

You need a Mind-Map.

Mind-mapping is one of my favourite ways to work through all those detours in the road to a great story. It is the law of Imagination that just when you are working on your current story, a brilliant idea or three hit you simultaneously. This is when I pull out my mind-map.

If you have never mind-mapped before, it is like note-taking but in a more visual form than notes. It is notes in picture form. Mind-mapping notes are perfect for those barely cohesive thoughts that you know will lead you down some wondrous path but first you have to connect all the dots. So out comes a mind-map.

Mind Maps just Zing for me. I am not a big note taker. Even at school, I detested pages and pages of notes. Instead I mind-mapped all my subjects. With mind-mapping you can zone out the unimportant and the fluffy, but you can zoom in on the essentials. You have to use bright colours. I have a pencil-case of coloured markers and highlighters specifically for mind-mapping. The great thing about mind-mapping a story is that you can put the mind-map in a place where you can always see it and that way always have a clear view of your story’s plot.

I use Mind-Maps to map my character profiles, my plot, the story arc, the back story, the setting. You get the drift? You can mind-map anything. It does not take long and you can fit what you might take over 10 pages of written notes to put into one mind-map.

The great thing about a mind-map is that it can also navigate you through the tricky parts in your WIP. If you are starting to feel lost in the story and need to figure out whether you have taken a wrong detour or just a more scenic route, you can refer back to your mind-map. It works the same way a road map does when you are driving. One look down at it is all it takes to steer you back onto the right road and miss the potholes.

I use an art-poster pad for my mind-maps. That way they all stay together. I can also keep it next to my bed so that I can jot down that stray thought (path) into a current or a new mind-map at 3am in the morning. Strangely enough that is the most active time in my imagination for new stories to germinate. But you could use any pad of paper or even a notebook for mind-maps. I do advise using unlined paper though.

I love my software so you know that I have some digital software for mind-maps to mention too. These are the top three I prefer to use:

FreeMind – An open source free download for that will work on any operation system whether you use apple, windows or any other OS. This is one of the simplest software programs to use. There is barely any learning curve and it is perfect for you if you are not big on complicated software with all the frills and whistles. This will do the job.

Mind-Node – A mac download that is available both online or in the Apple App store. There is both a free and a pro (paid) version. There is also a touch version that is downloadable for either your iPod touch or your iPad. The one drawback of this is that it is only available to mac users. Sorry pc folks.

Mind-Meister – A free or a paid download that you can sync through your pc/mac, your laptop/notebook, your iPod touch, your iPad and even your twitter/Facebook. The great thing with Mind-meister is that like Dropbox it is a secure online storage. You can also, like Dropbox, share and collaborate on mind-maps with other people though an online account. This one is a new favourite of mine.

Try Mind-Mapping. Whether you try the old-fashioned pen and paper way – make sure you have multiple coloured markers for this, it only adds to the fun – or one of the digital software, you will look at plotting in a whole new light. For those pantsters who cannot imagine taking copious notes this might be the perfect introduction to a very effective way to plot and still give you that freedom of just letting the imagination roam. Your imagination can still roam, you can just mark down the highlights in bright colours so that you don’t lose those wanderings. You could even draw pictures if that is the way you prefer to think. For plotters, you will love the new way to plot because you get to indulge in plotting that story arc or character profile but taking less time to do it.

Try Mind-Mapping out and let me know whether you had fun.

It might just revolutionize your next story. 

What’s your favourite way to make sense of those random 3am imaginings? Do you mind-map already? Are you a note-taker/note-scrawler? Do you use a dictaphone/recorder to tape your thoughts. Share with me how you make sense of those 3am thoughts. 

11 thoughts on “Navigating the Mind of a Storyteller

  1. This is a great article. Thanks for a beautiful description of mind-maps. I’ve seen them before and seen the “branching” version (which works like this but doesn’t emphasize the colors or images involved)… even tried it once on something.

    As usual with any form of outlining, after doing it I didn’t feel like writing it and until I lost the “branching” page, I couldn’t work on the idea. I had to forget I’d done it in order to start the novel.

    I think the main reason it doesn’t work for me is that I’m also a visual artist. If I start doing pictures or even diagrams, I go into “Art Mode” and playing with colored pencils or markers will make me want to elaborate on that and do a cool illustration for the book instead of actually writing the book.

    What’s crazy though is that I think I can use this when I’m planning a serious, complex painting! If I start mind mapping the ideas for it at the stage where I’m choosing the references and/or still life objects, it could help me pull it together and connect all the different preliminaries – notans, value drawings, color studies, thumbnails, assorted studies of elements of the composition.

    I’ll try it on a story sometime, not on a Nanowrimo. I’ve still got a second novel to finish and my novel writing process is too streamlined to change – any time I try to tamper with it, I slow down and might lose the project. Editing while writing almost killed the book I’m working on now. I had to stop working on it, write a completely different one to get back into my process and then come back t oit.

    So true about falling-asleep inspiration too. I get thousands of ideas at that point. I like keeping something by my bed to jot them, currently that’s my iPhone where I can email them to my computer when I’m done with my notes. Or I just get up and write, there’s always that!

    1. That is a “novel” way to use MindMaps Robert 🙂 That is why I love mind-mapping, there are endless uses for them. I definitely am more of a visual person and find looking at a picture styled plot works better for me than a whole lot of linear notes – longhand or point form.

  2. I have a note book in my bag, which sits by my bed. So my 3 am cure is to stumble out of bed, write something illegible that will hopefully trigger the memory in the morning.

    Then I crawl back to bed, buzzing with more ideas. Get up once more.

    I know you asked for 3 am thoughts, but I’m going to detour here (scenic route?). If it’s a reasonable hour of the day, I try plotting my ideas against the three-act structure (what all scriptwriters and novelists should be aware of. I don’t always know where to place my scenes, but I’ve now found a picture and scribbled my own addition to it.

    I’ve blogged about this three-act structure at in case you want to see my thoughts. 🙂

    1. Hi Rebecca 🙂
      Don’t you just love those garbled 3am scrawls? 😀 And it is Never just one idea that comes knocking, I find there are at least 3.
      Love the three act structure and yes totally swear by it. Agree, all novelists should be aware of it. Will check out your post. Thanks for linking to it.
      Great seeing you here 🙂

      1. Brilliant Goal! I know it is the best decision I ever made.
        Lovely to meet a fellow writer. Glad you enjoyed the blog. 🙂
        Been checking yours out too. 🙂

      2. Now I just have to figure out a way to make enough mullah to survive off that wage (yes, it’s non-existent at the moment).

        I’m compiling some short stories to publish as eBooks. Might as well do something with them.

        My hard-drive never did appreciate them they way they deserved to be treated.

      3. That’s a good idea. Yes Hard-drives are never the best appreciators 🙂
        Nowadays the market is wide-open because of e-books. Especially great for short stories too.
        You should try subbing them to some short story magazines online.
        Good Luck with them. Look forward to seeing what happens.

  3. Great article – I’m hugely visual, too and use lots of colour for my mindmaps and diagrams (at least that’s my excuse for my fountain pen ink collection!) I spent ages trialling different mind map software and found that I need something which does mindmaps but also diagrams so I can put my mapped ideas into the linear order that a novel requires. I use a product called MindJet – it’s expensive but it has a wonderful feature in that you can change ‘views’ from the map view to an outline view – so I can do my mind map, then turn it into a linear diagram by dragging around all my ideas THEN I can click a button and I have a standard outline, which is exportable to Word, rtf etc… I can also make changes in outline view (if I’m feeling less ‘visual’) and when I click ‘map view’ there they are all visual for me!

    1. Hi Dani 🙂 Been thinking of you…
      That MindJet sounds pretty fantastic. Will have to check it out…Ah…will have to see someone soon about this software addiction of mine 😉 Yeah, mind maps have always been the natural way for me to brainstorm, study, take notes, you name it, I have mind-mapped it. BTW, no excuse needed for a fountain pen ink collection. You are among friends here. 🙂

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