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Mind Mapping for Creating Characters
Whether you consider it a flow chart, whiteboard, or even just free association, mind mapping has been around for a while. People have used it for note taking, thinking and problem solving. A mind map is a tool used to visually organize information or ideas. As a writer, it can be used to solve writer’s block or create an effective outline. Today I will show you how to make a character sketch.
Character sketches can be very basic or incredibly detailed. This could include eye and hair color or blood type and your heroes first kiss. Many writers go online and find pre-made character sketches that include hundreds of questions that may not apply to your work. This is where the idea of a mind map comes in handy.
For those not familiar with the process, don’t worry, creating a mind map isn’t complicated. This can be done using a piece of paper, a whiteboard, or a software program. It doesn’t have to be expensive. There are several free programs that will do an excellent job, including xmind.net, mindmaple.com and freemind.sourceforge.net. Some of these programs have paid versions, but as a writer, the free versions will do what you need.
There are 4 basic steps to creating a mind map on any topic.
Step 1 – Start by writing a single idea in the middle of a blank page.
Step 2 – Add related ideas to this concept and use lines to connect them.
Step 3 – Block each of these ideas to expand and generate new thoughts.
Step 4 – Use different colors, symbols and images to make each branch unique.
I’ll use a character of my own as an example to help visualize this process. Each character you create will be different, but it will be much easier if you use these points as a place to start.
My starting point is always very specific. I use my character’s name and a photo of what I think she’ll look like. Why should I add a picture? Because as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Personally, I put the name and photo inside a red circle in the center of the page like a bullseye
I add new ideas to focus around my character. Each concept is placed in its own circle and connected by a wavy line. Why a wavy line? Because straight lines are boring and analytical, I’m trying to tap into the creative side of my brain. I will use a different color for each circle and the line connecting it for the same reason.
I focus on six main points with each character. These include family, friends, work, skills, physical and privacy. At this point, it may be difficult to come up with a photograph for each category, but you can use a symbol like a question mark for the category. Secrets.
The joy begins here. Under each main point listed, I include 5 additional sub-concepts. For example, under Family, I would list Mother, Father, Siblings, Other, and History. Each of these will also have its own circle, and I’ll color that circle the same as the initial concept family.
I can already hear someone saying that it won’t work for me, that my character’s parents are dead, or that my character is an orphan. So? It only sparks ideas. If mom dies, it will remind you of that and be a memory for your character to think about. If she isn’t, you can describe what she liked or disliked most about him
The same idea applies to siblings, if he has one he can tell the story of when his brother did this, or his sister did that. If she never had one, did she ever wonder what it would be like to have a brother or sister?
You may wonder why I included other words. Whether your character’s parents are alive or not, at some point someone else had a big impact on his life. That could be a babysitter, a scout leader or a teacher. We are all shaped by the people we interact with.
The history will include things like who were the black sheep of the family, are all the women in this family short, have there always been anger issues? These are things that the character doesn’t even realize affect his (or her) thinking.
I could write an entire article about how your character’s family influences their behavior or thoughts or beliefs. It’s like points on a mind map, you can go as deep as you want. By keeping it simple, (one word at a time) it allows your mind to fill in the blanks. Don’t believe it? Just say the word mother out loud and see what images and thoughts come to mind.
Most of the categories I listed are obvious, but I want to take a moment to talk about secrets. Every person on the planet has them, and if you think you can create a character without them, you’re sadly mistaken. It could be as simple as they never learned to swim or as dramatic as killing their own sister. This is a good place to incorporate habits. For example, if you wrote Taps, it might remind you that she always taps her fingers when she gets nervous. If you write the word ring, you will know that he twists his ring when he is upset. You don’t have to write the whole reason why he twists his ring just write words to keep your imagination going.
Key points to remember:
1st point- Easy to keep. One word at a time. You are not writing the story you are capturing the idea to include the story.
2nd point- Use color. Bright, vibrant colors stimulate the mind. The more stimulated the mind, the easier it is to be creative.
3rd point- Use curved lines to connect thoughts. Why? Because the brain gets bored quickly if only straight lines are used.
4th point- Add pictures whenever possible. Why? Because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then 10 pictures are worth ten thousand words. By using a word and an image you engage both sides of the brain without limiting your possibilities.
Once you start using mind mapping to write, the ideas will flow one after the other. It’s actually very difficult to have writer’s block if the ideas come so fast that you can’t keep up. It may not solve all your writing problems, but it will make things easier.
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