Tuesday Writing Tip – How to Mind Map Your Story

Do you have trouble with story structure…knowing what to include in your story…coming up with ideas?

Before I start my story I usually have an idea of what it’s going to be about…eg with Letters to Leonardo I had an idea for a story about a boy who gets a letter from his ‘dead’ mother.

After I have the concept or basic premise for a story, the next thing I do is brainstorm and mind map it. This helps me work out what happens in the story and when it happens. It also helps me identify themes and story threads that can form the basis of sub plots and be used to add depth and tension to the story.

Here’s a diagram of how I mind-mapped Letters to Leonardo.


1.            Think of a character. To find out more about them, you can do a character interview (Help on how to do this is available at the character interview recipe) This will also help you develop the back story. You might not end up using the back story, but what has happened to your character in the past will affect how they behave in the future.

2.            Once you know this character, think of a story problem for them. What is something they want or need, but can’t get? What has happened to them to create this immediate need or want? For example, in my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo, Matt gets a letter on his fifteenth birthday from the mother he thought was dead. What is the catalyst – the even that starts your story off.

3.            Write this is a circle in the middle of a large sheet of blank paper or a whiteboard.

4.            Based on the event that started your story, ask yourself a lot of questions:

  • What exactly happened?
  • How did this event happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Who did it happen to?
  • Why did it happen?
  • When did it happen to?
  • What if things had happened differently?
  • What will happen next?

(You can see in the diagram where I have asked these questions when mind-mapping Letters to Leonardo.)

5.            Let your mind flow free and offer up different answers to the questions you asked in “4.”

Write down whatever ideas come into your head.

This activity is all about thoughts and inspirations and possible plot points.  (These are the things I have written in green on my mind map).

6.            Select the parts/elements from your mind map that you want to include in your story. These will be the catalysts for the action in your story – the plot points.

I hope you have found this post helpful.

Do you have any tips on brainstorming/mindmapping your story? Please feel free to leave them and your comments.

Happy writing and brainstorming:)



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?”