Mind Mapping Your Story Ideas

Are you a visual person? Do you hate outlining? Then mind mapping is for you. It is also a powerful tool for any writer.

A mind map is a visual representation of connected ideas. This makes it perfect for playing with different elements of a story and discovering relationships you might otherwise have missed.

The mind mapping methodology was developed by Tony Buzan and can be used in all fields of endeavor. To learn more about mind mapping basics, check out this video How to Mind Map with Tony Buzan.

Why Mind Map

Mind Maps have been shown to be an effective tool in many fields of study and with people of all ages and educational levels. Research studies, such as this one, Mind Mapping and Students’ Writing Performance, demonstrate that this tool is especially effective when used during prewriting.

Mind maps:

  • Increase concentration
  • Enhance creativity
  • Lead to better organization of ideas
  • Highlight relationships
  • Show alternative paths

For more creative prewriting tools see How to Brainstorm Your Novel into Existence

How to Mind Map Story Elements

Tony Buzan’s mind mapping method is simple to learn.

ONE Place the main focus of the map in the center of a large piece of paper

TWO Brainstorm the main “branches” or topics that relate to that focus. Write one word describing each topic on its branch. Note: The order of these branches does not matter.

THREE Create as many subtopic branches as needed. Label these with one word or a short phrase.

FOUR Add as many colors and images as you can. Doing so will enhance your creativity.

FIVE Don’t worry about being neat or having beautiful pictures. Make your map any way you wish. The resulting graphic is for your personal use.

What to Mind Map


The initial use of a mind map in prewriting is to develop the plot of the story.

ONE  On the main branches, write all the elements that help or hinder the protagonist in reaching that goal. These can be other characters, physical events, psychological influences, and setting effects.

TWO On the subtopic branches, further develop each of these plot elements.

Here is a sample plotting mind map for a novel I am working on. I need to add more pictures and details.

Plot Mind Map example
Plot Mind Map in progress


Mind maps can be a fantastic way to deepen characters.

ONE Place the character’s name in the center of the paper.

TWO Create your main branches. These can be things such as Physical, Psychologic, Backstory, Likes, Hates, Abilities, Problems, Relationships, etc.

THREE Fill in the subtopics with all the character details you can brainstorm.

Character Mind Map Example
Character Mind Map in progress. Note how using different colors for each topic makes tracking that branch easier.


You can use a mind map to plan out the setting of an entire novel or for each scene or for both.

ONE Place the name of the location in the center of your paper.

TWO On the main branches, write either the days the story encompasses, another time frame, or characteristics of the location such as weather, transportation, culture, activities, events, geography, etc.

Ways to Use Your Mind Maps

There is nothing wrong with making quick, messy mind maps that you toss away after working through your ideas. But mind maps can also become a visual prompt. Hang yours on a wall by the computer or on a poster board you can set up near your computer as needed.

As you draft your story, consider making new mind maps when you have writer’s block, need to refresh a character relationship, or when your plot verves in a new direction.

Mind Map Digital Resources

While mind maps can be quickly sketched on a sheet of paper, digital mind mapping programs allow you to import information and photographs to enhance the appearance. Digital programs also allow you to move the elements around more easily.

Scapple, SimpleMind, and Coggle, are inexpensive or free examples of some of the numerous digital, mind-mapping programs available. Prezi’s free software makes a flexible map that can be easily converted for use in a story board.

Pros of Using a Mind Map Program

  • If you are going all digital, these will produce finished maps that you can save digitally
  • You can easily move items around
  • They look beautiful with colors and shapes of your choosing

Cons of Using a Mind Map Program

  • It is faster to sketch on a sheet of paper.
  • Using sticky notes for branch information allows the same amount of flexibility.
  • They require practice to master.
  • Since these are often used to spike ideas, you may not need to save these once used.

Whether you choose to hand draw your maps or use a digital program, mind mapping is an important tool for writers to add to their tool boxes.

Have you used Mind Mapping in planning your novel? Any tips to share?

7 thoughts on “Mind Mapping Your Story Ideas

    1. I am thrilled that the examples were helpful. They are not my best. I just started planning this new novel for NaNoWri, and these are my first efforts. Not fully illustrated yet, and plenty more pictures to add.


  1. Mind mapping is something I always hear about but never get around to doing, and after seeing the character mind map, I think I’ll do the same for my characters, since I always go into my drafts without having a good idea of who my characters are. Thanks for this post!


    1. So glad you are inspired. Mind mapping is a very freeing way to develop a character. Sure you could make a list, but there is something about having all your ideas blossoming across the paper that spurs creativity. Adding in pictures makes it even more exciting.


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