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?