This week we’re getting more questions about writing a novel and “winning” NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) than any other topic. I’m not surprised. Writing for entertainment is not only fun, it’s also lucrative. Fiction outsells nonfiction by a very long way on the ebook retailers.
Today, let’s look at boosting your writing skills, and making writing a novel easier with a mind map — or several mind maps.
Of course, you can use these strategies at any time of the year — no need to wait for November.
Mind map your NaNoWriMo novel: start at the end
Most commercial writers start their professional careers writing nonfiction. It takes a little effort to kick your analytical mindset out of the way and allow your storytelling free rein. Once you’re OK with telling lies for fun and profit, you notice something strange… You tend to go off at tangents when you’re writing fiction.
Within a few thousand words, whether you use an outline or not, your novel wanders off-track. Characters morph. Your plot splutters and fizzles. Then when you get your plot running smoothly again you find you’re headed in the wrong direction. Pretty soon, you find that you’ve written yourself into corner.
It’s tempting to sit in that corner whimpering, and decide that writing novels is not for you. But before you lose heart, here’s the best tip I can give you…
Start with your novel’s ending: when you do, you have a destination
Can you imagine setting out on a car trip without knowing where you’re headed? Or planning a vacation without knowing whether to pack your swim suit or hiking gear? Ridiculous idea, right? One of the reasons I’m constantly urging fiction writers to start with their genre (fiction category) in mind is that all genres (mystery, fantasy, romance, etc) have expectations.
When you’re writing a mystery, you know your sleuth will track down your killer — that’s your destination — the big reveal. Similarly, with a romance, you know that your hero and heroine will be together at the end of your novel. With a thriller, the hero saves the planet or the country. You know the ending.
So, when you’re planning your NaNoWriMo novel, start with your characters, then figure out where they’ll end up. When you know where they’ll end up, chances are good that you’ll start your story in the right place.
Create your main characters, then decide on a destination for them (that may change)
Yesterday, in Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips I offered some easy tips on character creation:
I know some authors like to create page upon page of character bios, and that’s fine — although it’s never worked for me. I like to start with the basics, a fictional character’s name, his age, his profession, and his primary attribute.
Create your characters quickly. The more characters you create, FAST, the more of your story (plot) emerges. To keep track of everything, use a mind map.
Here are some excellent apps.
Mind map apps will ensure that you stay on-track with your NaNoWriMo novel
When you’re brainstorming characters, creating mind maps is a much more effective strategy than writing notes or lists. We’re all visual, and when you can lay out what you have on a canvas, you start to spot connections, and your plot grows swiftly.
My current favorite mind map apps are:
- Scrapple: made by Scrivener’s developers, and great fun to use;
- Inspiration: a wonderful app I’ve been using for decades;
- iMindMap: developed by the big proponent of mind mapping, Tony Buzan.
Of course, you can also draw mind maps by hand. I create a book journal for every novel I write, and my mind maps are roughed out in my journal before I transfer them to an app.
The major benefit of mind mapping your novel: you know where you are
You can read a novel in a couple of hours. However, writing a novel can take months. In the case of NaNoWriMo, you write 50,000 words in 30 days. You can’t keep all of that material in your head. Nor can you review your notes on plot and character at a glance if you don’t mind map them.
Therefore, as soon as you create your first character, start a mind map. Add your character to the map. Add more characters, and ideas for your plot.
Most importantly of all — add a destination. Add the ending to your novel as soon as you can.
Plot backward from your destination for a satisfying ending (and for much easier writing)
You can link mind maps together. I usually end up with four mind maps for one novel: Characters, POV (Point of View) Character, Plot, and Research.
BIG TIP: don’t create these four maps, and then attempt to populate them. Stick with one mind map, until it gets confusing. Then move some items to another map. Then another map, when you need it. When you’re starting your novel, the more information you can take in at a glance — on one map — the better. Seeing your novel at a glance gives you confidence.
Happy NaNoWriMo. 🙂
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels.More info →
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