Using Mind Mapping to Evoke Reader Emotion

First of all, let me apologize for any egregious errors you may find in today's blog. I have Sudafed brain right now. Complete with sinus pressure and the sleepy blehs.

I got an iPhone on Saturday. For months, I've been going on and on about how I didn't want a smart phone and just wanted to keep my basic plan. Well, consider me converted. I am totally in love with this phone already. And, like any new iPhone owner, I've been endlessly searching for cool apps. I know, I know. Some of you already have iPhones and are thinking, "Come on. That was so nine months ago." But this whole app land is new to me, and I can't stop searching.

Something I discovered earlier this afternoon is a free app called Mindjet. Have you heard of it? You can use it for a variety of different tasks, but I decided to use it to create outlines for my two main characters. Essentially, it gives you a blank space to create a bubbly outline, and allows you to add pictures and code each entry with a specific color and shape.

Now let me start by saying I'm not usually one to outline or plot. So if you're a SOTP writer, this might be a good option for you. For some reason, the bubbles make it feel less like a structured outline and more like brainstorming.

You don't need the app to do this kind of brainstorming, though... a pencil and paper will work just as well! The key here is to keep from criticizing yourself. Think of it more like an organized brainstorm.

So how can you use mind mapping in a way that will benefit your current work in progress?

Well, what I chose to do is use it to map out my characters' GMC's (goal, motivation, conflict). Both My Book Therapy and James Scott Bell recommend a variation of this technique. If you really boil down what goes into crafting a strong character, it's three things.

  • Goal: Your characters have to have at least one thing they're pushing toward, working for, throughout the course of the novel. You can have smaller goals that you address in each scene, but you also need a larger goal that will carry your characters on toward a bigger task and ultimately challenge them to become a better version of themselves. One of my main characters' goals is to keep the peace with her overbearing mother.
  • Motivation: Now go deeper. What is pushing your character to want to achieve these goals? Goals are usually more external, where as the motivation is usually more internal. The character I mentioned above wants to keep the peace because her father left when she was young, and she blames herself for what happened. 
  • Conflict: What external forces are pulling against your characters, keeping them from their goals? In a romance, you need more than two characters who fall in love. You need solid reasons why they can't be together until the end. The more believable the conflict and the higher the stakes, the more emotion you can create for the reader as your characters struggle to overcome these conflicts. The conflict in this example is that the character falls in love, against her mother's wishes.

Now, I realize that these three things are not new to most of you, just as they weren't new to me. But I'd never actually sat down to map them out, and boy was I amazed at some of the secrets my characters were hiding.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through my WIP, and doing this exercise really helped me refocus on what aspects and struggles I need to be highlighting and deepening. Regardless of whether you're just starting a new book or in the editing stage, writing out these three things can help you gain a greater level of clarity.

In addition to clarity, though, mind mapping can also help you develop the emotional layers of your book. The reason for that is simple enough... the better you understand your characters' goals, motivation, and conflicts, the deeper the story you will be able to write. If readers have a firm grasp of what's at stake for your characters, they will not only identify with these characters, but they will also worry, which keeps them reading. Think about the books and characters that have stuck with you over the years. Are they not the ones whose struggles you identified with, whose anxieties you felt as your own?

Have you ever tried mind mapping before? Do you have any advice on sharpening your GMC's? And while we're at it, do you have any writing related apps you'd recommend?


  1. Great idea. I'll have to look for that app. I like the goodreads app and the Kindle app. I can send my manuscript to Kindle and read it right from my phone.

    I hope you get to feeling better!

  2. Thanks Julie! I'm already SO much better after getting some sleep. :) I just downloaded the Kindle app and love it too! It's so cool how it synched with my existent Kindle account.

  3. Aw, feel better, friend! Sudafed brain es no bueno.

    I'm a total outlining and brainstorming freak. And when you were talking about bubbles, it reminded me of a clustering exercise I did with my students in 101. Ha.

    Like Julie, I love the Kindle and Goodreads apps! Haven't looked into a whole lot, but I. Love. My. iPhone. Too. Best thing ever.

    1. Thanks Lindsay! I ended up taking another dose of Sudafed again today (bring on the loopy-ness), but hopefully that will clear up the rest of the fluid in my ears.

      I know what you mean about the clustering! I never really sit down and do it myself, but I've had my students do stuff like this before. It really is so beneficial to write things down!

      I'll have to check out the Goodreads app too!

  4. So good, Ashley! I am always scared to do an exercise like this in the middle of writing a book, but it sounds like it helped you even though you're almost done! Going to have to do this!!

    I love my Kindle app! I can read when I am waiting...anywhere!!! I always jump on all the free kindle books so I have a nice little stash.

    1. I do the same thing, Angie! I'm such a Kindle book hoarder! It's awful! :D

      And yes, doing this exercise brought so much more clarity as I'm trying to figure out how all the threads in my novel tie up. Plus it was a lot of fun! You should give it a shot!

  5. “But I'd never actually sat down to map them out, and boy was I amazed at some of the secrets my characters were hiding.” It is indeed a good way to analyze the different aspects of a certain character. It gives you clarity through its structure (keywords and branches). In addition, it would help to have a central image, where it is the main idea. In the case of story writing, it would help to put the main essence, or the idea where the story revolves, in the center.

    Alexandra Gale