What’s your biggest challenge in fiction writing? For me, and for other writers too, judging by my students, it’s keeping everything organized, so that we can press on with our projects, and get them done.
Looking at my physical desk right now, I have three journals for novels, a day book for my clients’ marketing schedules, a thick folder with novel and story outlines… and that’s just what’s in front of my monitor.
(I love it when people post images of their wonderful computer setups; I’m so envious. Half the time I can’t even find my keyboard. :-))
Ideally of course, we’d all go paperless. Your mileage may vary, but I need to use pens and paper for fiction; otherwise I block.
Writing fiction, when compared to writing nonfiction, is chaotic and messy. When I write nonfiction, I can keep most of a books’ materials on my computer. Not so with fiction.
The problem with fiction is that you need more than a single outline. You could create one massive outline, but then you’d need to use an entire wall for it, and some writers do that.
Fiction writing is messy: your secret weapon — mind maps
Some writers outline, other writers don’t. I wrote Map It for writers who hate outlines, as I used to do.
When they say “I hate to outline” however, what authors mean is that they hate to create a plot outline. How do they know what the story is until they tell themselves the story?
That said, when you’re writing a novel, there’s a mass of information which informs your plot, and for which you need outlines.
My secret weapon? Mind maps.
Here’s an example.
This mind map is a template for creating characters for mystery novels.
Why create character outlines/ mind maps?
So that you’ll remember who’s who.
Fiction: remember who’s who (and what each character wants)
Readers read fiction for entertainment. They’re entertained by your characters, above all else. This means that you need to keep a novel’s character straight in your own mind:
- What does each character want?
- Basic details: name, occupation, age?
- What’s his primary attribute — is he friendly, snobbish, optimistic, or a pessimist?
- What’s a main character’s character arc?
And so on, and so forth. By the time you’ve written 5,000 words of your novel, you’ll have the characters straight in your own mind, more or less… Until you realize that for three chapters you’ve written the sleuth’s sidekick in your mystery as a gym junkie, when you originally planned him as a computer nerd, and you need him to do some nerd magic in the next scene.
A character mind map or two helps you to avoid these kinds of headaches. When I’m in the midst of writing, I don’t want to look up a Character List — I want to glance at my mind map, and be instantly reminded that the main character’s brother is witty and perceptive.
Mind map apps: free and commercial
Do a search for “free mind map apps” and you’ll have lots to choose from. My favorite free app is Freemind. It’s written in Java, so you can use it on most computers.
There’s a mile of commercial mind mapping apps too. Some offer a yearly subscription, if you need to collaborate with others.
Discover mind maps — your maps will help you to keep your sanity when you write fiction.
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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 →
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