Mind-Blowing Mind Maps

I’m one of those writers (and maybe it has something to do with my astrological sign) who gets lots of story ideas. I always hear my characters talking to me. They grip me and I have to sit down and put my hands on the keyboard. I have so many story starts that I will never be able to complete them all.

Now, if it were just story-starters that my characters tell me, it would be one thing. But often it’s more than that. The characters start telling me things they would like to do in the story. Again, I’m certain this is not uncommon. But for “discovery writers” like me, this can lead to a story that is all over the place.

At some point, I just have to sit down and figure things out.

This is where mind-mapping comes in . What’s mind-mapping? Well, for those of us old enough to remember brainstorming non-fiction papers for English class in school with the circles around phrases and lines going out to other words and ideas in bubbles, then you know mind-mapping. We use to call it “brainstorming” and I still call it that. These hip new kids these days!

Remember when these were “thongs?”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Yeah, that makes me feel old.

This is a picture of my living room earlier this year when I was trying to work out the correct order of some scenes in Walk the Path (sequel to Tangled Magic).

This was about a third of the length.

I don’t usually go to such extremes of printing out the story on paper, cutting it into sections, and paper-clipping it together as well as to the line, but I did here only because I really needed to see the whole thing in action.

Usually, a simple brainstorming session on a whiteboard is enough for me to get the scenes in order and figure out which ones need to be cut.

Unfortunately, I’m waiting for the day that I can be like Tony Stark with Jarvis and move holographic scenes around in the air. I came close recently when my boys introduced me to a virtual reality art program on the Oculus. When you need more space, you can “jump” to another location. Okay, this nearly had me sold. We’d played several VR games together, but this art program was nearly a game changer for me. Nearly.

What made it fall short?

The fact that my notes and thumbnail sketches (yes, I was trying this for my art too) were stuck inside VR. I’m told there are ways to print this, but I just don’t think most of them are practical at this time. We will get there, but not yet.

Besides, VR is still price prohibitive. It’s all fine for my son to afford his own headset, but it just doesn’t bring enough value for me to purchase my own (yet!).

Recently, I’ve gone back to creating a lot of mind-maps on paper. The problem with this is that it’s hard to move them around. Yes, I’ve even done the note card brainstorm all over my living room floor. There’s nothing like having dogs, cats, and children (when my boys were younger) coming running through and sending the cards aflutter. Now where was I? Didn’t I just move that scene? (grin) Yeah, the joys.

I’m not certain that I’ll ever completely get away from whiteboard, paper, or note cards, but I’m always on the lookout for new technology to help me. I know a lot of people use Scrivener to not only plot their books, but write and publish them too.

Recently I was asked if I had any experience with mind-mapping (yeah, those dang whipper-snappers born in the 80’s!) and if I knew of any computerized tools that could be used. She was asking me because she knew I used a lot of technology. I just started laughing and said that I had used a lot of mind-mapping tools over the years for my books. Her face lit up as she responded that yes, that would be a great tool for a writer to have. (It’s moments like this that really make me enjoy my multi-skilled life!)

Strangely enough, just in the week before this conversation, I’d picked up Scapple again. Now this program is made by the same company that does Scrivener, but it’s merely for mind-mapping. I’d been working on a book, making and breaking links between scenes, and really letting the program expand as my mind came up with ideas.

This was exactly what my friend needed too. We did look at other tools, but most of them cost a lot of money. There are a few good phone apps too, but then you are generally restricted to using them only on your phone. My eyesight doesn’t allow me to work effectively on apps on a phone. Heck, I’m starting to hate emails that come to me in real small fonts. Then there are the websites that don’t work correctly when they are expanded, even if they are rotated. Oh, don’t get me started on this. I’m about to switch to a phablet! (Kidding!) That’s a phone/tablet combination for those of you that don’t know. Almost as bad as the bricks we once had for cell phones.

Now I’m still re-learning Scapple — I got a free license many years ago and used it, but now do you think that I can find that license number now. Oh well, it’s only $18 to buy, so it doesn’t break the bank. I feel it provides enough value to be well worth the price. I do wish I had a few more options for it, a few more background colors and bubble colors, but when you realize that you can also change the text color, it’s simple enough to quickly have a myriad of different elements, like idea, scene location, author notes, spurred events, necessary dialogue, etc. And, it’s so easy to break links and reconnect them to other scenes. Everything moves around, so it’s a lot like spreading note cards all over the floor, but without the risk of them getting shifted by outside influences (grin).

Here’s a screenshot of Scapple when I was working out Fractured Echo – I had forgotten I had this until I opened the program and it asked me if I wanted to open up a prior mind-map. I’m not sure how relevant it is to the story, but obviously at some point I needed to work on straightening out the story.

Brainstorming for Fractured Echo

Now, I did change some of the bubble and text colors just to illustrate the how elements could be changed. When I did this for plotting out a section of The Missing Thread (yeah, you’re not going to get to see that one yet! No spoilers!), I set up a legend of what my coding meant in the upper left hand corner.

So, for anyone out there who is looking for a great mind-mapping, brainstorming program, Scapple is a fantastic option. It is simple to use and adjust, it has an elegant price-point, and doesn’t seem to take a lot of your computer’s system resources. There is also a free trial which allows you 30 days of use (not a 30 day trial, where once you open it, you have 30 calendar days to use it, but where you can open it one day every month and have access to it for 30 months if you only needed it periodically!)

Get your free trial here.