Mind Maps and Plotting

It started with a daunting project

My first few stories had a very simple linear outline. I wrote them all in chronological order. I didn’t see any point in mind maps back them. Until this beast.

After several crits on my Pigeon House piece, I discovered that I had serious structural flaws in the story. I was desperate to figure out what was wrong.  I was lost and turned to my characters. I was trying to think of what I knew about what they were doing before the story started.  They were all on train tracks, headed for

I was trying to think of what I knew about what they were doing before the story started.  They were all on train tracks, headed for town after finishing their jobs. The fix seemed obvious. I’d just pull the timeline background and have them all start together in the same place. The story would end shortly after my original story began.

Lots of story bits, no story.

I pulled out several parts of the story and had them happen before any of the characters came to the city the first story began in. I could easily transfer the dialog and the sub plots into the train ride story, but I had no main storyline. I didn’t want this to be simply a plotless travel story. I needed help. I decided to try mind maps because I heard they were good for brainstorming.

Mind maps to the rescue!

I started with my character maps that I showed you two days ago. Then I turned to the plot.


You’ll see that it started the same way my character map did, except there are no blurred out pictures. This is because this all goes into Scrivener as I write the details on each thread. You’ll notice the addition of a new secondary character. I pulled him out of the “minor character” plot map when I saw that he had many plot lines connected to him. You’ll also see the “Train events” maps. This will turn into my timeline. This isn’t a character. It’s all of the events that happen on the train caravan as it rides to its final destination. My main character is absent because he’s involved with the storylines of all of the characters.

I’ll show you my train map so you can see how this story comes together.



I looked at all the characters and tried to understand why they’d all start the journey at the same time. I also needed a reason for everyone to finish at the end of the line. With the character maps I made before, I quickly figured it out. They are all going to a major event on the circuit they are traveling. It’s a huge gathering with several different championship events and a massive market selling all sorts of goods that many mages on the circuit use and create. I’ve pulled out all of the events that all of the characters — even the minor characters will be doing at the end. I won’t be writing in detail about most of these, but every character that I bothered naming has a reason to be at this big event.

The highlighted event is the one that Reddy, his performance partner, and Barrie end up participating as a group in. The plot node has all of the events that have to take place before they are ready to compete in the event.

  • Reddy and Slap need to win a certain number of competitions on the circuit they are traveling to qualify for the championship.
  • They need to practice for these events
  • This story line helps Barrie get accepted into the group. He’s a much better musician than all of them, and the competition gets ferocious as mages from all over the nation try to rack up enough wins in the same location.

To make the train journey more realistic, I wanted characters to stop in places that were not related to the main plot line. These events started out without any connection to the main plot or sub plots. I didn’t want any stops that were “useless” to the story line, so much of the subplot action takes place in the train’s side stops.


Here are all the sub plots Barrie is involved in. Whichever plot primarily involves the main character is highlighted and bold. This is the character’s primary storyline. I’ve finished up all of the character plot lines that are directly related to Barrie. I still don’t have the locations or times for these events. I’ll be testing out timeline software to sort this out.

The other sub plots will rarely show up in the story. Much of their action will happen “behind the scenes.”  I included them because they will happen on the train trip. Even though much of these storylines won’t be live action in the story, characters will talk about them. Even if nobody talks about it, they will affect how the supporting characters will behave in the story.

Example: Barrie and Flora are both descendants of Morabi immigrants. Flora and Barrie frequently argue in a common dialect of the Morabi language in front of Reddy, but they will smile and keep a friendly tone. Reddy doesn’t speak Morabi, and has no idea what’s going on. He’s the POV character, so neither does the reader. I need to know what they are talking about. So the Barrie/Flora story line has many translated conversations between the two. These will not appear in the story at all.

I’m currently in the process of writing out all these events. When I’m finished, I’ll put them on a timeline so I can see what’s happening behind the scenes when Reddy has his main storyline. I’ll put all of the plots and subplots together, and then I’ll stick them in locations I built in the train mind map.

Freedom with mind maps.

I will be weaving all of the character plots together to make the main story arch. Then I’ll put them in locations and add some bits connecting everyone together. For now, the mind maps are great for allowing me to give my full attention to each character’s role in the story. Now is not the time to be switching back and forth or wondering which events will happen when.

I take each node and copy it into Scrivener. I write the story events on sheets. I can move these sheets around in whatever order I like. I can write the entire romance between Barrie and Reddy as if it were the only plot in the story. Then I can mix it up with the other character scenes and the grand championship preparations. I know I’ll have to cut a bunch out, but I won’t know how much until I get them all down and properly shuffled into a coherent narrative.

So now you can see how this all works out for me. Mind maps are excellent. 


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