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Mind Mapping for Creating Characters

Whether you consider it using flow charts, whiteboards or even just free association, Mind Mapping has been around for some time now. People have used it for taking notes, brainstorming, and problem-solving. A Mind Map is a tool used to visually organize information or ideas. As a writer, it can be used for solving writer's block or creating a workable outline. Today I am 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 your heroes first kiss. Many writers go online and look for pre-made character sketches that include hundreds of questions that may not apply to your work. This is where the idea of a mind map comes in handy.

For those who are not familiar with the process, don't worry creating a mind map is not complicated. It can be done on a piece 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 subject there are 4 basic steps.

Step 1 - Start by writing a single concept in the middle of a blank page.

Step 2 - Add related ideas to this concept and use lines to connect them.

Step 3 - Branch off 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. Every character you create will be different, but if you use these points as a starting place, it will be much easier.

My starting point is always very specific. I use my character's name and a photo of what I think he or she will look like. Why do I add a photo? Because as the saying goes, "a picture IS worth a thousand words." Personally, I put the name and photo inside a red circle at 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 might be hard to come up with a photograph for each category, but you can use symbols like a question mark for the section that says Secrets.

This is where the fun begins. Under each main point listed, I include 5 additional sub-ideas. For example, under Family, I would list Mother, Father, Siblings, Other and History. Each of these would also have their own circle, and I would color that circle the same as the primary idea Family.

I can already hear someone saying this won't work for me, my character's parents are dead, or my character is an orphan. So? This is only to spark ideas. If the mother is dead, this will remind you of that and be a memory for your character to ponder about. If she's not, you can describe what he liked or disliked about her the most.

The same idea applies to Siblings, if he has them he can tell stories of when his brother did this, or his sister did that. If he never had one, did he ever wonder what it would be like to have a brother or sister?

You might wonder why I included the word Other. Whether your character's parents are living or not at some point someone else had a major impact on his life. That could be a babysitter, a scout leader or a teacher. All of us are created by those we have interacted with.

History 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 the character himself may not even realize affect his (or her) way of thinking.

I could write an entire article on how your character's family affects the way they act or think or believe. That's kind of the point of a mind map, you can go as deep as you want. By keeping it simple, (one word at a time) it allows your mind to keep filling in the blanks. Don't believe me? Just say the word Mother out loud and see what images and thoughts pop into your head.

Most of the categories I listed are obvious, but I do 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 sadly mistaken. 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 could remind you when he gets nervous he always taps his fingers. If you wrote the word Ring, you would know she twists her ring when upset. You don't have to write the whole reason why she twists her ring 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 in the story.

2nd point - Use color. Bright, vibrant colors stimulate the mind. The more stimulated the mind, the easier it is to be creative.

3rd point - Use curved lines to connect thoughts. Why? Because if you just use straight lines, the brain gets bored quickly.

4th point - Add images whenever possible. Why? Because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then 10 pictures are worth ten thousand words. By using a word AND an image you engage both sides of the brain without limiting your potential.

Once you start using mind mapping to write, ideas will flow one after another. It's actually very hard to have writer's block if ideas come so fast you can't keep up. It may not solve all your writing problems, but it will make things easier.

Award-winning writer/photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years' experience with these creative skills. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on visual arts and believes that creativity CAN be taught. His photography tells a story and his writing is very visual. Tedric shares his insight and perspective at: http://writephotos.weebly.com

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