There are no formal rules, psychologist Greg Korgeski tells us in a 2007 Writer's Digest article, but the technique is straightforward.
- Choose a Work Surface with Some Room to Expand
Legal-sized paper, sticky notes on a poster board or wall, a whiteboard, a software program. Whatever you use, it should allow you to easily record ideas and to either move them around or make connections.
Put your first idea in the middle of the surface and start recording related things and associations around it. Or start at the top and work down. Or just write ideas randomly all over the surface. Use colors, question marks, flags, anything to help you in this first "idea dump", any ideas that seem related even at six levels away. Don't stop too soon. Don't move on until you've written down all you can.
- Sort and Organize.
Now mark importance with asterisks or color. Circle ideas that seem to go together. Connect related ideas with arrows and lines. Move ideas closer to those with an association. See what relationships and connections arise out of the process. These can be used to structure your story, build theme, or create characters and conflict.
One of my current projects started with a sudden, clear inner vision of a heroine wearing black, standing over an open coffin. That was my sparking idea and went in the center of my map. Then I brainstormed. Who's in the coffin? Why? I wrote that on the map. What's the heroine feeling? How's she related to the coffin person? All on the map. I'm a sticky notes fan, so I had covered a board with them by the time I was done.
Then comes the sorting and organizing. I found out that the heroine secretly loved the hero, but he was married to the heroine's sister, who, by the way, was in the coffin. And there was a daughter involved and a job in Alaska. I could have gotten to these points in other ways, but the Idea Mapping created a tangible picture of what I saw as connections. The map now is a reminder as I write of the overall structure I'm creating in my novel.
You can use idea mapping to build an outline; figure your way out of a plot block; work out a character's background; create a writing plan based on your skills, knowledge and preferences; organize your website; or plan your writing career. Versatile and easy, idea mapping gets those ideas in writing and into workable forms. To find mapping software, just search for "idea mapping software" on the Web.
Have fun and be productive. Map today!