Whether you consider using flowcharts, whiteboards, or even just free association, Mind Mapping has been around for some time. People have used it to take notes, brainstorm, and solve problems. A mind map is a tool used to visually organize information or ideas. As a writer, it can be used to resolve writer’s block or create a workable outline. Today I’m going to show you how to create a character sketch.
Character sketches can be very basic or incredibly detailed. It can include eye and hair color or blood type and the first kiss of your heroes. Many writers go online and search for pre-made character sketches that include hundreds of questions that may not apply to their work. This is where the idea of a mind map comes in handy.
For those of you unfamiliar with the process, don’t worry, creating a mind map isn’t complicated. It can be done on a sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or using software programs. It doesn’t have to be expensive. There are several FREE programs that will do an excellent job, including xmind.net, mindmaple.com, and freemind.sourceforge.net. Some of these programs have paid versions, but as a writer, the free versions will do everything you need.
To create a mind map on any topic, there are 4 basic steps.
Step 1 – Start by writing a single concept in the middle of a blank page.
Step 2 – Add ideas related to this concept and use lines to connect them.
Step 3 – Divide each of these ideas to expand and create new thoughts.
Step 4 – Use different colors, symbols, and images to make each branch unique.
To help visualize this process, I will use one of my own characters as an example. Each character you create will be different, but if you use these points as a starting point, it will be much easier.
My starting point is always very specific. I use my character’s name and a photo of how I think it will look. Why do I add a photo? Because, as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Personally, I put the name and the photo inside a red circle in the center of the page, like a bullseye.
I add new ideas to focus on around my character. Each idea is placed in its own circle and connected by a wavy line. Why a wavy line? Because straight lines are boring and analytical, I am trying to tap into the creative side of my brain. I will also use a different color for each circle and the line that connects it, for the same reason.
I focus on six main points with each character. These include Family, Friends, Work, Skills, Physical, and Secrets. At this point, it can be difficult to find a photo for each category, but you can use symbols like a question mark for the section that says Mysteries
This is where the fun begins. Under each main point listed, I include 5 additional sub-ideas. For example, in Family, it would include Mother, Father, Siblings, Other, and History. Each of these would also have its own circle, and I would color that circle in the same way as the main idea Family.
I can already hear someone say that this won’t work for me, that my character’s parents are dead, or that my character is an orphan. Then? This is just to generate ideas. If the mother is dead, this will remind you and will be a keepsake for your character to ponder. If not, can you describe what you liked or didn’t like the most about her.
The same idea applies to siblings, if you have them, you can tell stories of when your brother did this or your sister did that. If you never had one, have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a brother or sister?
You may wonder why I included the word Other. Whether your character’s parents are alive or not, at some point someone else had a huge impact on their life. It could be a babysitter, scout leader, or teacher. We are all created by those with whom we have interacted.
The story would include things like who was the black sheep of the family, are all the women in this family short? Have there always been anger issues? These are the things that the character may not even be aware of that affect his thinking.
You could write a full article on how your character’s family affects the way they act, think, or believe. That is the point of a mind map, you can go as deep as you want. By keeping it simple (one word at a time), you allow your mind to keep filling in the blanks. You do not believe me? Just say the word Mother out loud and see what images and thoughts pop up in your head.
Most of the categories I listed are obvious, but I want to take a moment to talk about Secrets. Every person on the planet has them and if you think you can create a character without them, you are very wrong. It could be as simple as they never learned to swim, or as dramatic as they killed their own sister. This is also a good place to include habits. For example, if you wrote Taps, it might remind you that when he gets nervous, he always taps his fingers. If I wrote the word Ring, I would know that the ring twists when it is upset. You don’t have to write the whole reason why the ring is twisted, just write the word to keep your imagination going.
Key points to remember:
1st point – Keep is simple. One word at a time. You are not writing the story, you are capturing ideas to include them in the story.
2nd point – Use color. Bright and vibrant colors stimulate the mind. The more stimulated the mind, the easier it will be to be creative.
3rd point – Use curved lines to connect thoughts. Why? Because if you only use straight lines, the brain gets bored quickly.
4th point – Add images whenever possible. Why? Because if a picture is worth a thousand words, ten pictures are worth ten thousand words. By using a word AND a picture, you interact with both sides of the brain without limiting your potential.
Once you start using mind maps to write, ideas will flow one after another. It’s actually really hard to get writer’s block if ideas come up so fast that you can’t keep up. It may not solve all your writing problems, but it will make things easier.