Today I'd like to talk about mind maps—what they are, how to use them, and where to get them—as a way of brainstorming, solving problems, keeping track of your events and timelines, and generating new ideas.
Sometimes stories are straightforward: you begin with your basic idea or outline, and then you sit down and write it from start to finish. But not all stories are that easy-going. Quite often you find they grow and become complex, unruly things, and before you know it you're buried under a mountain of notes and plans, maps and research—and that's before you've even tried to structure your plot or study your characters in depth.
This is where mind maps could come in handy.
I'm fairly new to mind maps, but so far I've found them helpful for keeping my novel timeline in order. They're also an excellent "quick-reference" if you're looking for a specific detail and you don't have time to wade through page after page of notes.
What is a mind map? From Wikipedia - A diagram used to visually outline information.
How do I use a mind map? You start with a central theme or idea, usually placed at the centre of your map/page. This could be anything from a single word prompt to a phrase or topic, problem, character or concept. From there, you create sub-nodes and attach anything associated with the central theme. These sub-nodes grow outwards, generating more and more sub-themes and ideas, very much like a spider diagram. The best way to understand how a mind map works is to see one in action. Take a look at this hand-drawn mind map and this computer generated map (both images from Wikipedia).
How to make a mind map: You can create easy, free mind maps using paper and coloured pens or pencils (see example map above). But if hand-drawing isn't your preference, there are also a number of programs available for the computer—some free and some paid.
Free Mind – Free Mind is a Java-based software that is free to download and use. They have a helpful website that provides instructions on installing and running the program. Works on PC and Mac.
Simple Mind – A simple, easy to use program. This is also a Mac app, but I'm linking to the desktop version as you can use it on a PC as well. You can only download a trial for free; you'll need to buy the full version if you want to keep using it after 30 days.
Bubble.us – I've not tried this one, but it looks like it could be useful. You create your mind map directly in your browser. You can print it out, or download it to your computer when you're done.
Mindomo – This is a paid program. The website states: Human thought is characterized by expansion in multiple directions. As a mind map software, Mindomo is a perfect match to work the way your brain does reflecting your thoughts.
MindMeister – This mind-mapping tool allows you to share your mind maps with others and collaborate easily. There is a free trial, though it should be noted that you have to pay a monthly subscription for the full program.
There's also a list of (rather pricey) paid mind map programs for Mac here, and a list of freeware programs for Mac here.
And there's a list of free mind map programs for PC here.