First, I'll put up a crude mind map I created using free online software (http://mapul.com/) to show what it is we're talking about:
What is a mind map? A mind map is a diagram that organizes thoughts, ideas, tasks, and other kinds of text around a central concept that links them all. Above, for example, the central concept, placed in the center like a tree trunk, is "mindmapping." Questions branch off on limbs, which can themselves branch as many times as needed.
According to my research, organizing knowledge graphically dates back centuries. Today's mind mapping concept was invented in the second half of the 20th century, although various people are credited in different sources.
What purpose does it serve? If you went to an American high school, you probably were taught rules for outlining and are well acquainted with the frustrations of trying to follow them. Mind mapping has several advantages over traditional outlining. For example:
- Mind maps are more flexible and more accommodating of the real world. There doesn't need to be a III.B.2. to balance a III.B.1., for example.
- Creating a mind map draws on your intuition and subconscious, not solely the areas of your brain concerned with logic and hierarchy.
- Colors, shapes, and line thicknesses can add additional information without taking up any extra space.
- Concepts can be illustrated with images rather than words.
- Complex relationships can be shown by connecting branches or twigs with a line. If relationships are complicated enough, that line can have a secondary node from which new branches can sprout. This is called a "concept map"; mind mapping is a simplified version of concept mapping.
- Brainstorm Christmas gifts for your nieces and nephews.
- Expand a short story idea (see below).
- Take lecture notes (especially useful for classes in which the professor routine wanders off on tangents).
- Break down a book project into its various components and subcomponents.
- Put information in graphic form so you can memorize it more easily.
- Choose a dinner party theme and plan an appropriate menu.
- Reconstruct a memory whose details are foggy.
I'll walk through a simple example (without drawings, so that this post does not scroll on and on for yards). I recently came across an anthology looking for submissions; I'll use a mind map to brainstorm.
Zombies Without Borders," in the center of my paper.
My first branch will be labeled "submission information." This branch will have branchlets with the desired word count, deadline for receipt, pay rate, submission email, and other details.
The anthologist desires stories set somewhere other than the United States, with culture and geography used to showcase the setting. So my next branch will be "possible locations." Each branchlet will bear the name of a city or country. I will get some chocolate for inspiration and fill these in by free association. Haiti and West Africa are two obvious branchlets—probably too obvious, but I'll make a branchlet for each anyway. I'll also add branchlets for Egypt (maybe I could do something with mummies?), Antarctica (what happens when zombies don't rot?), and the Guatemalan jungle (because I'm interested in synchretic religions). Note that in the process of choosing labels for the branches, I've also come up with a couple of possible story questions.
My next branch will be labeled "zombies." Its branchlets and twigs will categorize the types of zombies in literature and folklore and their respective traits. Alternatively, this branch could end in a circle that encloses the words, "See Wikipedia article printout on zombies; it's in the pile of unread mail."
Because the anthology submission stories are supposed to feature their settings, my next branch will be "possible plots specific to locations." Again, I'll use chocolate and free association to label the branchlets. One obvious branchlet is "zombies vs. local supernatural beings." Sub-branches could be "media-style zombies vs. Vodou zombies," "zombies vs. mummies," "zombies vs. Legba," and "zombies vs. the Abominable Snowman." Other possible branchlets might include "fighting zombies with local fruits or vegetables" (what would be the effect of throwing stinky durians at a zombie horde?); "fighting zombies with local poisonous creatures" (would the bite of a Komodo dragon make a zombie rot away in a few days? I'll go back and add an "Indonesian islands" branchlet to my "possible locations" branch); "effects of local climate on zombies"; and "what happens when zombies show up in place where the people have no knowledge of zombies?"
Note that these branchlets do not have names that are parallel to each other in construction. In mind mapping, intuitive logic is as important as formal logic.
I think that's enough of a start to give you a good idea of how one can devise multiple plots for a short story idea by mind mapping around a germ of an idea—in this case, three words. In case you're curious, in the process of creating this mind map, I came up with an intriguing idea for a zombie story that perhaps I'll write.
Should one draw by hand or use a computer? Personally, I like the freedom of drawing my mind maps with colored pens or pencils on paper. It's faster, so my map can keep up with my ideas.
If you want something that looks more orderly (perhaps for a presentation at your office) or if your handwriting is unreadable, you can construct mind maps on the computer in various ways.
First of all, Microsoft Word is equipped with everything you need to make a mind map. The Object Palette contains shapes, lines, arrows, and simple drawings and photos that you can arrange on the page and label. The Drawing Toolbar has an even more extensive set of options, including flowcharts.
If you need or prefer more sophisticated tools, you can find many programs for drawing mind maps on the Web. Many of these are free. Here are two Websites where you can find lists and brief descriptions of programs for mind mapping and concept mapping:
Have you experimented with mind maps? Do you have any useful tricks, or have you found unusual applications for them? I'd like to hear your experiences.
Thank you for stopping by today. I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on December 5. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.