Before I even start plotting, I mind-map my story. It’s kind of like ‘free writing’. It’s a chance to get all those random thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

For me, it has two benefits:

1.  It relieves some of the clutter in my brain and helps me to work out where my story is going.

2.  Random thoughts lead to more random thoughts – mind mapping allows my mind to roam free. It helps me understand who my characters are and what their place is in the story. It helps me to understand why things happen and how they occur.

I always start a book with an idea. The idea can come from all sorts of places; news articles, songs, music, people, objects, kids, dialogue, animal behaviour, plants, flowers, pretty much anywhere.

To show you how this all works, I’m going to use the mind map I had for my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo. The book tells the story of a boy who gets a letter from his dead mother on his fifteenth birthday. Okay, so I knew what the book was going to be about. I wrote this in a sentence in a balloon in the middle of  a very large piece of butcher’s paper.

Then I asked myself the following questions:

  1. WHO is the boy? WHO is his mother?
  2. WHERE has she been for the last ten years?
  3. WHAT is the main character (Matt) going to do now that he knows she’s not dead?
  4. WHEN is the story taking place?
  5. HOW is Matt going to find his mother? HOW is Matt’s mother going to come back into the story?
  6. WHY has Matt’s mother been absent from his life?

When I asked myself these questions, all sorts of answers popped into my head and I wrote them on the butcher’s paper.

I also kept asking myself another important question, over and over again WHAT IF?

  1. WHAT IF Matt’s mother wasn’t dead?
  2. WHAT IF she came back into his life?
  3. WHAT IF she had something wrong with her?
  4. WHAT IF he discovered that she wasn’t the person he wanted her to be?
  5. WHAT IF there was a reason that Matt’s dad had lied to him for the past ten years?
  6. WHAT IF Matt was artistic?
  7. WHAT IF Matt wrote letters to someone to help him try and make sense of it all?
  8. WHAT IF Matt couldn’t trust anyone living?
  9. WHAT IF Matt wrote letters to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci?

I wrote the answers to these questions in little blocks of text around the main idea. When I thought I had all my ideas down on the butcher’s paper, I put circles around them. Then I used arrows to link the stories together. I use different colours for different story threads. Below is a simplified diagram of how I created Letters to Leonardo. You can see how I have separated the story threads, which often end up being the themes.

Here’s a simplified version of my brainstorming for Letters to Leonardo.

Letters to Leonardo brainstorming diagram

You probably won’t use all of the brainstorming bubbles in your book, but they can be a great place to start your plotting.

Hope you have found this useful.

Happy writing.


* * * ON THURSDAY AT Deescribewritng – “Where Do I Start My Story?”


  1. I always find it useful to see someone else’s journey through story. I actually use different methods for different stories eg the snowflake method, or even the thousand-pieces-of-paper-oh-why-didn’t-I-plan-this-better method.

    Thanks Dee!

  2. i couldn’t manage logical point form or time lines, but as a messy thinker I love mind mapping…thanks Dee

  3. Thanks Book Chook.

    I agree it’s good to have different methods up your sleeve. Sometimes if a scene is not working I will go back and re-plot it. What works for one story or stage might not work for another.


  4. Thanks Caroline,

    That’s one of the reasons it works so well for me too. It’s like having a road map so you know exactly where to go next time you pick up your story. Good luck with your novel.



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