Tag Archives: mind mapping

Where do ideas come from?

I came across a book packaging site the other day.  They, like other companies like them, will choose a writer to write a book for them.  They’ll give the writer an idea and the writer is then supposed to do the heavy lifting for a flat fee rather than a percentage of the royalties and in some cases without even having their name on the books they’ve written. 

Ideas aren’t hard to come by.  In fact, I’ve started a list that I fill out every night before bed.  I come up with 5 ideas (titles, characters, plots, settings, whatever) and jot them down.  The idea is that I’ll have a nice pool of jumping off points to choose from if I’m ever stymied. 

I thought I’d share my method of developing an idea into something workable.  With a diagrams!  I’m a visual person so any time I can come up with a visual aid, it’s a happy day for me.

I pulled an interesting plot idea off the take a plot idea thread in the NaNoWriMo forums a few months ago, but didn’t write down the details so I’m just going to go my own way with it.  A futuristic society has developed a way to add enhancement implants into humans, but the implants have some sort of awful drawback.  I like it for the purposes of this entry.  It’s pretty open ended.

The original idea could come from literally anywhere.  A newspaper story you read might spark some speculation, a movie you watched might have had an awesome premise, but you feel like the execution wasn’t what it should have been, maybe you pick it up from a site like the Nano forums… it doesn’t really matter where you get an idea as long as it inspires you to examine it from all sides and see where it might lead.

I prefer using a mind map for this next part, but I’ve also used bulleted lists.  I give myself permission to be as sloppy and cliché as I want.  That’s important.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge even your dumbest ideas because, in my head at least, one thought leapfrogs to another until I’m thinking about something that has nothing to do with the original idea.  Besides, if an idea is really awful you just drop it.

I use a program called Xmind for mind mapping.  They have a pro version that costs money, but I’ve found the free version to be perfectly acceptable for what I use it for.  Try the herring bone structure for a time line… it works great.

Ok, so our central idea is Enhancement Implants.  Now I would start using a combination of things I “know” about the idea and W questions (who, where, what, why, how) to start filling in my map.  Whenever a branch forms I start asking myself questions about THAT.  By the time I’ve been at it for half an hour or so I can usually start the processes of world building, character creation, and outlining the plot.

I’m alternating between filling out my map and writing this post.  But I found my first interesting possibility for a story.

screen shot 1

I was exploring the idea that maybe these implants should be mandatory.  Which lead to some new questions. What happens if you don’t get one and what kind of a person would rebel against getting one?  I have a seed of an idea now.  A character lives in a society where it has become mandatory to get implants to enhance performance and correct any defects.  There are drawbacks, maybe widely known or maybe a closely guarded secret, but there are people who are in opposition to the mandate.  One of these people might make an interesting main character.

screen shot 2 

Ah, interesting.  What if the drawback was that the implants are organs and tissues taken from people who live in a “people farm”?  It’s been done before, sure, but it might be worth exploring further.  It adds some drama from the outset.  Especially if the penalty for crimes against the state would be to be sent off to one of the farms to be harvested.  And if refusing the implant was in itself a crime…

So now we have the beginnings of a plot.  We’ve got a scenario and some conflict.  We just have to ask ourselves what sort of character would live in a world like this?  Then we start throwing some of that conflict at them.  Maybe the MC is a member of the resistance or maybe their cherished brother was taken off to the people farms for a crime he didn’t commit.  Something has to happen that puts MC at odds with the rest of the world. 

Since this is me we’re talking about, I’d most likely end up going a paranormal direction with this.  Maybe the people farms aren’t made of people, but some kind of supernatural creature instead.  I don’t know. 

If this were a real project, I’d have several layers of sub branches fanning out, but this is the basic process.  Once I had a decent idea of where the story might go, I start world building, character sketches, and outlining though a series of mind maps and bulleted lists where I just pour out all my ideas onto the page.  I move back and forth between the three because an idea about one thing will often cause me to do a new chart about the others. 

I think the main thing about coming up with ideas is to let yourself be fluid.  Nothing is written in stone so feel free to go off on a tangent.  It might lead somewhere interesting. 

I’m uploading the finished map to Xmind.  You can find it here.

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OneNote, the Sequel

In our last exciting episode, I talked about my favorite software program in the entire universe and touched on how to add web information into your notes. I may have also implied that OneNote can save kittens from trees and hug lonely pandas. It can’t. It doesn’t have arms. But if it did, these are the kinds of things that it would do because it’s just that kind of program.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about my writing journey and not one about the non-writing related uses for ON, I thought that I might actually get around to talking about writing at some point in this post. It’s pretty much a certainty if you use this software for any length of time you’ll be able to come up with your own uses for it and undoubtedly they will be more clever and well planned than anything I’ve come up for it so let’s get to the point, shall we?

My preferred genre is urban fantasy. This means that in my writing universe there are more races than human. A lot of these are things that I’ll never see outside of my imagination, which is what makes my note taking so important. Even the more common place (in urban fantasy, anyway) creatures such as vampires and werewolves have “rules” unique to my universe and those rules must be obeyed.

A slight tangent here… I think that there is a huge myth amongst newbie writers. They assume that writers are gods of their creations. This much is true. But like our own Creator, writers are bound by the weaknesses and flaws of their creations. A human being isn’t likely to fly away from danger because we don’t have wings. If you make something implausible happen in your own fiction your readers WILL notice and will not be amused. /end lecture
Ahem. So yes, the rules must be created and they must be obeyed. I love using OneNote for this. The tabs, pages, and subpages allow a lot of organization to take place.

Using my own work as an example, I keep a notebook labeled “DW Universe”. This will be my main reference for all works that take place in this universe. Each separate WIP will merit it’s own notebook where I will keep track of characters, settings, plot lines and the related information, but each WIP will be included in the DW Universe notebook, which will continue to grow and evolve as long as I continue to work in that world.

The DW Universe notebook has become a wiki of sorts. Thanks to a feature in ON that allows you to link to other pages and paragraphs within the document, I am able to easily relate characters to their races. Let’s say that I have a character named Melvin the Merman. Let’s further speculate that in my world mermen are rare and thus highly sought after by the mermaids. They all also have sparkly blue tails and bright green eyes. Creating a link from Melvin’s page to the page on merfolk is like shorthand. It’s easy to see at a glance what his appearance is and that if he were to date a human it would not be a widely accepted choice amongst his peers.

These links have proven to be invaluable because I have made probably 100 pages of entries. Some are things I’ve written myself, some of it comes from research, and there are lots of images. Being able to find a key picture or the article I wrote about the racial traits of dryads in my world is important. Being able to find those things quickly, is even more precious.

Besides the links, you can add tags to help you quickly find information. And everything you add is searchable, even photos of text you’ve taken. You can make audio recordings and ON will automatically run voice recognition software to make a sort of transcript that can also be searched. I haven’t played with this feature yet, but it does seem pretty promising.

And, of course, you should consider the biggest selling point that Microsoft markets: the ability for more than one person to share notebooks. If you’ve ever wanted to do a collaborative project with someone, ON would be ideal for that. No media is off limits to this software. Voice recording, pictures, handwriting (scanned or written on a tablet PC), emails, internet documents… probably more that I can’t think of off the top of my head… They can all be integrated and Outlook especially works wonderfully with the program. I don’t use that feature as much as I should. I’d be a much more organized person if I did.

I hope I’ve done this software the justice it deserves. It really is the most important tool I have access to besides Word. It has taken my notes to another level of usability. Putting the ideas on paper is important, but so is being able to find what you’ve written weeks later.

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If OneNote and Jesus got in a fight, I think we all know who would win

***I found a neglected Blogger account that I started in 2009 and wrote exactly 2 entries and an unpublished draft.  Since the information in it is still relevant, I decided to repost it here.  The OneNote version I’m writing about is 2007.  I’m not yet familiar with what all the 2010 version offers.***

First let that I am not part of the targeted demographic for OneNote. I am in no way a professional woman in any sense of the word. I don’t even write freelance non-fiction articles to pay the bills. I am a stay at home mom, full time student, and and a fiction writer still learning her craft. So no, the marketing that Microsoft has all over the software page has officially gone straight over my head.

If my only introduction to this program was the official marketing I would never have tried this program. Luckily for me, I ran into a discussion about the merits of OneNote versus those of Evernote. Evernote is a great program and if costs or other factors prevent you from using ON, then I’d highly recommend Evernote as a viable option.

As it happens, I actually had a copy of ON 2007 included in my Microsoft Office Suite bundle that was installed onto my computer when it was built a few months ago. I’m sure I’ve seen it countless times without making the connection that I had nearly the most important software of my life (second only to MS Word) right there, begging for use.

So at this point, you might be thinking, “Ok, Wannabe, you’ve convinced me that you love this software. Care to elaborate on why you think it’s so amazing?”

Why yes, Hypothetical Reader, I would love to introduce you to the cult of OneNote. I’m not even kidding. This program has its own fansite.

I’ll readily admit that I am the opposite of an organized person. I am the type of woman who writes myself notes on the back of a handy scrap of paper, only to throw it away 20 minutes later. Or use it to spit my gum into. Or spill a half full can of Mountain Dew on it. Or whatever. The point is that my precious thoughts are often lost nearly as soon as they leave the nebulous confines of my mind.

Things got slightly better with the introduction of my iPod Touch. I have some great apps on it for brainstorming writing ideas and keeping track of those former “scrap of paper” ideas. I’ll write more about how I use my iPod as a writing tool at some point in the future. For now though, know that it’s really helped me keep track of things. The area where it really excels is making lists. This is where I keep track of authors, books, and songs that I want to purchase. Helpful, but not life altering.

Enter OneNote. The interface is pretty intuitive. I was able to start using the basic functions within minutes of opening the program. And if that’s all I ever learned how to do, it would still be an extremely useful tool. But it does so much more than just let you write notes to yourself in different notebooks. I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface.

Let’s talk about using ON for prewriting. My first step for any research is always the internet. I’m lucky enough to have access to a lot of scholarly sources thanks to my continuing education. And even without that, you can’t beat a quick Google search for turning up a dozen different aspects of any topic. The real downside to this approach is that you might end up with numerous links to relevant articles.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ended up killing a forest worth of trees in order to print out piles of useful information. Some people will always feel better having a hard copy of their notes, but I’m fine with just having a handy place to store digital information. OneNote has several options for storing information found on the internet. You can send the page directly to OneNote using a widget in the tools drop down menu (or at least that’s where mine lives). The disadvantage to this is that the formatting is almost always guaranteed to be so wonky that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish what the heck you found so useful about the page in the first place. I was going to add an awesome little screenshot at this point, but Blogger has defeated my will to live and so you’ll just have to explore a little on your own to find this widget.

Another option, and the one I use the most, is the copy and paste method. You can copy anything and paste it into ON and it automatically generates a link to the page where the information came from and tags it with the date and time. This has come in handy on more than one research paper I’ve had to write for school. My sources cited list isn’t half the pain in the butt it used to be.

The last way for getting internet information into ON is to capture a screen shot. There might be easier ways to do this out there, but until I started using ON I used to have to hit the “Prt Scr” button, open an image editing program, Ctrl-V to paste and then crop it into something usable. At the very least we are talking about a process that took a couple of minutes and if I were trying to capture a lot of screen shots then it might take hours. Not fun.

OneNote has a built in feature for capturing screen shots. Windows key-S and the entire screen goes semi opaque and you use your mouse to draw a rectangle around the part you are planning to keep. It then automatically saves the image (with dated link) in the “Unfiled Notes” tab. You can then move it to whichever notebook you’d like to keep it in. And as an added bonus, you can save the screenshot image to your hard drive as a usable image in it’s own right. It was how I took the screen shot I nearly included with this post.

I have hobbies outside of writing. I’m actually something of a (really really) amateur artist. I do some scrapbooking and mixed media collage. In addition to piles of books and magazines that I buy for inspiration, I follow web sites and blogs dedicated to the art I enjoy creating. OneNote is the perfect way to organize the images that really speak to me. A quick screen cap and I not only have the image I want, but also a handy link and date so that I can find the original context again. Please remember when doing this not to violate any copyright laws. Using images for inspiration is ok, using them in your own work and claiming them as your own is not, whether you make a profit or not.

Since this is starting to get really wordy, I’m going to wrap this post up and make another post about how I actually use ON for prewriting.

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