Monday, February 21, 2011

Idea Mapping for Writers

As writers, we are often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" Most writers would agree, I think, that the first sparking idea of a book comes easily. A scent, a family story, a character, a bit of conversation, a landscape. Something about that experience touches us, and we just know there's a story in there. The bigger dilemma do we take that sparking idea and create Story. One way writers approach this is a technique called "Idea Mapping". The concept was brought to the public eye by Jamie Nash in 2006 and has been adapted to all kinds of creative endeavors throughout the worlds of art, science and business. Idea mapping assumes that our minds may work best when we lay out our ideas in a non-linear, visual form.

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.

  • Brainstorm

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!


Sandy Cody said...

This is fascinating, LaVerne. I've never done anything like it, but will give it a try. I'm always looking for new ways to bring those sparks to life. Thanks.

Beate Boeker said...

I've just hit a dry place in my current novel, and as I'll be sitting in a plane tomorrow, I'll try to start mapping it. Maybe that will solve my problem! I've not yet worked with that idea, but it sounds like fun. Thank you, LaVerne!

LaVerne St. George said...

Let us know how it goes for both of you, Sandy and Beate. It's always good to find a new technique that will help us over the rough spots. Good Luck!

Elisabeth Rose said...

How very interesting. All I have at the moment is my next heroine's name and a few vague notions. I'll give this a try, I think. Thanks!