So you have this great novel you're working on. Of course, you have many concerns. How to keep track of the plot and subplots? What voice does each of the main characters get? How do the main characters change during the story? How do you manage these subtle change processes? How do you remember all this stuff?
I struggled with these questions on a recent novel. I actually stopped writing it because the character voices were murky. I had detailed character descriptions on each one, but in the first draft, they all acted, reacted and spoke like a single character. In other words, the novel was in trouble. I knew I had to differentiate the characters, to make them unique and individual. But, how do I do that?
Many times, when faced with complicated problems, I fire up my mind mapping software. In this case, I ended up with a mind-map that allowed me individualize the characters and identify the changes and the relationship that each endures or learns over the course of the novel. Convinced I was onto a good thing, I built two more to depict plotting and story construction.
These mind maps proved to be such a huge help on that project that I now create them for all my stories before I start writing the first draft.
So, how does it work? Mind-Mapping software is like brainstorming on a white board in a conference room. You write down ideas on the board (or the monitor) without any thought of the relationships or if the ideas are good or bad. Once you run out of new ideas, you start to draw lines to form relationships and/or patterns between ideas. The final mind map can be quite complicated, but it provides a picture of the solution. Another advantage is the picture can be used to rapidly refresh your memory while you're writing the novel.
To illustrate the process, I'll use mind-maps I've built for a novel I'm currently working on, Falstaff's Big Gamble. As you may observe from these mind map examples, I'm hijacking a few of Shakespeare's plots and characters. (or as I like to think of it, I'm updating them for the twenty-first century.) For the record, I used SimpleMind software on my laptop for these mind maps. It also has apps for the Ipad and that increases the program's usefulness to me. Another great mind map program is Ithoughts. It also has Ipad and laptop apps but it’s a Mac only program.
Falstaff's Big Gamble is a Shakespearean spoof that combines the characters and plots of Hamlet and Othello, transposes them to Gundarland, a mythical country, and changes them from tragedies to comedies. That ain't easy to do. Hamlet is now a dwarf prince with family issues. Othello is a dark elf who gets a high government position through a trumped-up resume and surreptitious help. Falstaff is a human and a scam artist looking for new opportunities and he finds both Hamlet and Othello are available.
The novel has two main plots, one involving Hamlet and the other involving Othello. In both plots, Falstaff is the antagonist. A double plot with two protagonists and many support characters necessary to round out the story requires some means of organizing the story and controlling the writing. My mind maps provide an ideal method of accomplishing these objectives.
I developed three mind-maps for this new project; one for the character roles, the second for the plots and the third showing the story construction. I use these mind-maps constantly while I’m writing the first draft. Each of them covers a different aspect of the project. Combined, they give me the necessary overview of the entire novel on a few pieces of paper. This is the great advantage of mind-maps; they can hold a great deal of highly organized information on a single sheet of paper.
This mind-map is a simplified one, I removed the minor characters to uncluttered the diagram and it shows only the three main characters. For each one, I depict the most important facets of the character. These include the character's role (as if I could forget that!); the character's voice, a descriptive phrase that summarizes the character (these aren't as easy to come up with as you might think.)
Character Voices Mind Map
(FBG is my abbreviation for the book title.)
(FBG is my abbreviation for the book title.)
The maps also show another very important trait, the Dominant Reader's Emotion, abbreviated as DRE in the map. This is the emotion I want the reader to experience when the character is in a scene.
Naturally, the character sketches I created have much more detail, but the mind-map gives a concise overview of the character.
Before I start to work on the story, I study the mind map to get inside the characters' minds and recall how I want them to act. These maps are especially useful when I revise the draft after letting the story age for a few weeks
This one depicts Othello’s plot events that occur during the story. It also shows the conflict between Othelo and Falstaff. The full mind-map also has the plot events for the Hamlet vs Falstaff story.
Plotting Mind Map
Story Construction Mind-Map
The third mind map shows the story construction. As you can see, the novel is broken up into four main parts. For each main character, I've entered the major events that the character will face. For simplicity, I only show the Othello details. The full mind-map is quite detailed with the major events for each character in each part of the novel.
This is the mind-map that really matters to me.
Story Construction Mind Map
Using the story construction mind-map, I can get about ninety percent of the scenes identified. Later on, I'll have to add a few scenes in a number of places, most of them to connect two other scenes.
Note that this mind-map does not have subplots shown on it, but the full version does.
Since my mind prefers to work in pictorial views, these three maps give me an overview of the entire structure of the story. They also allow me to see if there are any duplications or missing components in the plots and offers a quick refresher to make sure the the story is on track.
I love mind-mapping and I use the process to brainstorm with myself on a variety of problems and issues. In the past, I've developed mind-maps to help me introduce new books and others on marketing those books. Mind-mapping stories is a new application for me and it's one I'm excited about.
I have to admit, this process isn't for everyone. It's possible to use an outliner program to organize the story and I'm sure there are also other ways to do it. Authors have to find the way that works best for them. For me, mind-mapping, gives me a pictorial representation of what I'm trying to accomplish and is my road map to get the first draft done.
There are a number of mind-mapping software products on the market with a variety of prices. I have two products on my laptop and IPad; SimpleMind (http://www.simpleapps.eu/simplemind/) and Ithoughts (http://www.ithoughts.co.uk/iThoughtsHD/Welcome.html) Although both do essentially the same thing, they have small nuances and details. Simplemind is more colorful, for instance. Ithoughts allows icons and images to be placed in the bubbles. I prefer the Ithoughts version, but I use both socne they have some different capabilities.
Falstaff's Big Gamble:
I'm working on the last revisions. Look for it in late 2012. You'll find more information about it on my blog http://hank-quense.com/wp and my book website http://strangeworldsonline.com
Award-winning author Hank Quense lives in Bergenfield, NJ with his wife Pat. They have two daughters and five grandchildren. He writes humorous fantasy and scifi stories. On occasion, he also writes an article on fiction writing or book marketing but says that writing nonfiction is like work while writing fiction is fun. A member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, he refuses to write serious genre fiction saying there is enough of that on the front page of any daily newspaper and on the evening TV news.
Zaftan Entrepreneurs is the first book of a trilogy. In it, an alien mining ship discovers a planet that holds promise to be a mining bonanza. Unfortunately, it is inhabited by humans, dwarfs, elves and other races and they object to the mining expeditions.
Zaftan Miscreants is the second book in the trilogy. It is awash with unusual characters and filled with bizarre plots
Hank’s previous works include Tales From Gundarland, a collection of fantasy stories. Readers Favorite awarded the book a medal and EPIC designated it a finalist in its 2011 competition. His Fool’s Gold is a retelling of the ancient Rhinegold myth and Tunnel Vision is a collection of twenty previously published short stories. Build a Better Story is a book of advice for fiction writers.
Altogether, Hank has over forty published short stories and a number of non-fiction articles.
He is presently working on novel that combines the plots and characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello with the character Falstaff thrown in for good measure. The book’s title is Falstaff's Big Gamble.
Hank has initiated a series of lectures and workshops to share his expertise in creating fiction and publishing books. Create A Short Story is a 4 session workshop in which the participants design their own short story. He also gives a two-part seminar on Self-publishing a book and Marketing and Selling the self-published book.