Good ideas DO grow on trees

14 Mar

Ever thought about mindmapping your way to richer characters?

I’ve been using mindmapping for years now, but I had only used it for educational and management purposes when it hit me: what a good tool to add some depth to my characters!

Since this is one of the most important things on my To improve list (somehow I feel my guys and gals – good or bad – generally need more meat), and since I am a visuals junkie, I had to take the shot. So, this post is about how mindmapping can be used to get some good work done on your characters. Nothing revolutionary, nothing fancy, but practical. The way I like my tools.

1.       What is mindmapping in the first place?

This is a story other people have already taken their time to write, so I’ll provide you with bibliography.

click on the image for an introduction into mindmapping

2.       Oh, I get it. But why should I use it?

There are two important things that mindmapping can do for a writer. The first is outlining – a mindmap is a great way to explore possibilities for your story. The second is getting a deeper, clearer view of your most important characters by constructing an exhaustive portrait of her/him/it.

By mindmapping your characters, you provide yourself with a coherent view of who they are and what their motivations, quirks and secrets are.  You put everything in one big picture that you can easily tap into with just one look. But guess what – this doesn’t do squat!

In my experience, it’s not being able to go back to the mindmap that helps – it’s actually making one. The process forces you to think of the characters by looking at them from all sides, hidden and obvious, and filling in the gaps.

3.       How should I go about doing it?

If you’v ever done characterisation essays in literature classes, this is the same process, reverse engineered. Instead of looking at existing heroes, your are creating new ones filling in a similar templat:

  • Visual characterisation – how the character looks, moves, dresses and generally behaves on a level that can be perceived visually
  • Dominant traits that the story will underline/feed on (including dominant passions and vices)
  • Direct characterisation – what other characters would have to say about the subject
  • Indirect characterisation – traits (psychological and emotional) that can be observed and extracted as conclusions from his/her behaviour

Well, the best way to go would be to give you and example. Here it is, mindmapping applied to Vasilisk, the main character in the Trashgod short story.

For this particular piece, I’ve used a dedicated software (a few options below), but if you feel like grabbing you crayons and an empty sheet of paper to open the floodgates of your child-powered creativity, don’t let me stand in your way (not that I would DARE to).

http://www.mindjet.com – ‘professional’ software

http://www.mindomo.com – partially free, subscrition based license; online, so location independent

http://www.freemind.sourceforge.net – freeware. fast and furious

An extra note on creative mindmapping: to keep your left-side brain from getting in the way, use all sorts of elements for mindmaps. Sketches, clippings, colours and, of course, writing – it doesn’t have to be a sterile land – my character looks like this or that, he does this and says all the wrong thigs, etc. The branches of your mind map could well be short scences from the (future) story.

4.       When should it be done?

Any time you feel it is necessary. So far, I have never done it before starting a story, it has been more of a way to clarify things and make sure that a character does not get wishy-washy when he has some serios decision-making to do.

However, if you have a clear enough picture in your mind, you can start to put some more ‚meat’ on the skeleton even before you write the first line. Of course, this isn’t just for the main character. Linking their mutual stereotypes and feelings could be fun and creative.

So, what are you waiting for? There are no excuses left. Better characters are lurking out there, waiting for the right writer to prey on.

Bait them with some mindmapping and enjoy your writing.

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