M E Fuller

Mind Maps. How to imagine your story, and more.

At Saturday’s Brainerd Writers Alliance meeting, one of our members, Bev Abear, shared her notes from a weekend workshop with Sheila O’Connor. The theme of the workshop was “Dream the Scene.” Ms O’Connor shared her thoughts on how to approach the writing of a scene for a novel. Her insights can also be applied to a short story or a work of nonfiction. According to O’Connor, the way to start any writing is in the writer’s imagination: dream (imagine) first the scene, then mind-map, then write.

I was first introduced to the idea of writing from the unconscious (dreaming) by my writing coach, Laurie Parker.  Through timed free-writes, using a legal tablet and a pen, I discovered how open my thoughts were, so much more so than when I typed the words. While I type – as I’m doing now – I’m correcting, back-stepping, rewriting. I’m operating from a technical area in my brain. It’s efficient. It’s fast. Typing reduced my writing to “telling,” – description – rather than “showing”, action.

Parker also gave me a tip on the fastest way to write my next novel. Using a stack of sticky notes, I was to jot down everything that came to mind about the story: theme, characters, descriptions, timelines – everything and anything that popped into my head. I was not to write sentences, just quick notes. She told me I might have a 1,000 of them and I might use only a few when it came time to begin the writing. She suggested that I stick them to a wall, in chronological order.

I followed her suggestion to the letter and for weeks, I stared at those sticky notes on my wall. They were not calling me to action. I didn’t know what to do with them. I couldn’t connect with a next step.

Sticky notes

One day I took them down, stacked them together. I thought I’d do morning writings off of each one until I fell into a rhythm. Now, I don’t know where those sticky notes are. So, what happened? It turns out I needed a more dynamic way to work with those notes. And that, for me, came with the reminder about mind-mapping.

I first learned about mind maps in the early ‘90s. I’d met an author and physicist, Peter Russell. He had come to Minneapolis for a talk on his book, “The White Hole in Time.” In a quote from Russell’s website page on mind maps, it states,

“Before the web came hypertext. And before hypertext came mind maps.

Mind maps were developed in the late 60s by Tony Buzan as a way of helping students make notes that used only key words and images. They are much quicker to make, and because of their visual quality much easier to remember and review. The non-linear nature of mind maps makes it easy to link and cross-reference different elements of the map.


Peter Russell joined with Tony Buzan in the mid-70s and together they taught mind-mapping skills in a variety of international corporations and educational institutions.” http://www.peterrussell.com/MindMaps/mindmap.php

The non-linear nature of mind maps makes it easy to link and cross-reference different elements of the map. I realized I could put my sticky notes in place on a mind map (story map) and they would come alive to me through sensory details as they connected with characters and theme and place and plot.

I did an internet search to find what authors had to say about the use of mind maps in writing. I came across C. S. Lakin’s blog article, “Creative Mind Mapping for Novelists.”  I suggest reading the article in its entirety.

Mind Map on the Macro and Micro Levels

I’ve never seen anyone specifically focus on novel structure or fiction plotting via mind mapping, so I’m going to show you ways I feel mind mapping can be useful for the novelist. The beauty of this technique is in its versatility. You can work on your novel on a macro or micro level. You can create a mind map for every major (and even minor) character, for all your main plots and subplots, and for other aspects like historical research and setting. C. S. Lakin


I know, I know, this doesn’t sound inspired, like just sitting down to write sounds inspired, but in fact, it is. When you sit down to write at the keyboard, you are, in essence, scratching an itch. Part of your brain is all lit up with creative energy, but it’s being lassoed and corralled by the mechanics of typing. I came away from Abear’s talk, excited to share these thoughts with you and then to sit down and start mind-mapping the next book. Oh, by the way, I can do that because I’ve already “dreamed the scene.”

What does that mean? I’ve imagined, lived with, played with, worked out the creation of the story or scene or novel, in my head. I’ve seen it. I don’t generally do any creative writing without first having an inner experience of the urge to write. I have the characters and the place in mind as I begin to jot my notes or start my timed free-writes. What my mind then delivers on paper is astonishing. It is intuitive. It is rife with action. It is rich in metaphor. It is the difference, for this writer, between telling a story and showing a reader the way through the story.

My thanks to Bev Abear for sharing her experience with Sheila O’Connor. It’s taking me to the next step in writing my next novel.




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  1. Beverly Abear

    So glad you got a lot out of my talk! Sheila O’Connor is a wonderful teacher. She works at Hamlin University in the cities. Take a workshop or class from her any chance you get!

  2. Lidy

    Like using mind maps to get a little more clarity about my characters. Who they are, their vices, dreams, fears, etc. And now I make sure to keep a mini notebook and pen on me for whenever I need to jot down notes for whatever new story/plot idea hits me.

  3. D. Denise Dianaty

    Interesting. I’ve always written stories that began from some dream I had.

  4. zahra

    I love mind maps. Thank you for this informative post

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