Mind Mapping Tools for Writers and Story Editors

By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)

Mind mapping can be a useful technique for writers to add to their writing process. What can you do with mind maps? Visual plotting, scene outlining, brainstorming, character building, and a lot of other things.

Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, writers have some idea of what story they want to tell when they sit down to write.

Some of us have a general notion of where the story will go and leave the rest up to raw, organic creativity (the pantser).

And some of us plan every step by creating chapter-by-chapter synopsizes, story outlines, diagrams, character sheets, etc. (the plotter).

Not every writer fits into one category or the other--but most writers seem to identify with a style of working.

What it comes down to is- how do we grasp information? How do we organize our thoughts and ideas? Do we need to?

Within our brains, the right side follows direct links of related ideas and the left side likes to see a complete picture. So mind mapping seems like the perfect technique to balance both sides of our brain.

What mind mapping can do for you:

1. Beating Writer’s Block

When we’re stuck, it can help to release the tangled thoughts from our mind and lay out the ideas we have so far. Once we see where certain ideas are connecting, we can see new possibilities in the areas that are lacking—those brick-wall areas that started that headache in the first place. A mind map can loosen the mental blockage and make room for fresh brainstorming.

2. Laying the Tracks of Your Plot

The beauty of sketching out the path of our plot is that we prevent writer’s block. An outline isn’t supposed to lock us in; it’s supposed to tell us where to go next so we don’t get lost. If we’ve outlined in a way that suits our writing process, we can take comfort in knowing that our outline is flexible and can change routes to support our creativity.

3. Seeing Your Information at a Glance

It’s less overwhelming sometimes to see a diagram of information laid out than sifting through paragraphs of chapter synopsis and other planning documents. (One of the reasons infographics are so popular.) We get an instant visual, which means we can go back to writing more quickly. Shorter interruptions, more productivity.

4. Organizing Research and Key Information

We can even use mind maps to sketch out characters, manage our research, and highlight key information. For characters, we can map out traits, personality, quirks, background, appearance, thought process, etc. For research, maybe it’s equipment, historical facts, colloquial phrases, or fashion.

5. Collaborating on a Story

Mind mapping tools are great for co-writers, critique partners, and developmental editors. Depending on which tool we use, two or more users can collaborate on a mind map through internet connections, screen sharing, or exchanging attachments (assuming both parties have the same mind mapping program). It’s a quick way for someone to enter a map and point out visual aspects, make suggestions, and add more information.

Story editors can also use mind-mapping tools! In my developmental editing work, I find ways to organize story information for every project I work on, through mind maps, outlines, lists, and worksheets. And I reference those documents when I'm editing a manuscript. It's my style of working and I go to these lengths so I can fulfill my promises to authors. I promise to make revision less overwhelming for them. I promise to strengthen their content and bring logic to their stories. It’s part skill/talent and part organization.

My authors don’t need to adapt to my personal process of organizing information (unless they want to). We all have our own way of working. My working process allows me to present my findings and solutions to authors and help them improve their manuscripts. The key is to find tools that work for us.

Here are some mind-mapping tools to explore:

Mind42 - A browser-based mind-mapping tool that supports online collaboration. And it’s totally free. You can add images, links, and pop-up notes. Since this tool is online, you can share a map with someone using a link. The only drawback seems to be that there is only one type of structure—the traditional center that radiates branches.

XMind - More sophisticated than Mind42, this tool is downloadable software. They have a free and paid version. This tool offers several types of structures, from the traditional mind map to more complex structures and features. It also has options to add images, file attachments, and links.

NovaMind - Also downloadable software, but there are no free options. They have several mind mapping products starting at $29. This tool offers a lot of controls and features, flexibility, and customizations. It also provides a mobile app. Novamind is definitely for a mind mapping master.

These three tools range from simple to complex, but here’s a list for more mind mapping tools if you’re interested.

And of course, there’s always the reliable pencil and paper. *wink*

Have you ever used mind mapping for novel writing? Is there anything else you would add to my lists?


Stacy Jerger is a freelance developmental editor who's had the privilege of working with authors to organize and strengthen their stories. If you need help with your manuscript, check out the services page or get in touch.