Does “revising” your story consist of making tiny line edits only you will notice?
With some of my short stories, I did this for years. I knew they weren’t quite where I wanted them to be but thought maybe if I kept tinkering around with the sentences, changing a few words here and there, my stories would magically transform before my eyes.
Of course, I partially did this to delay putting my work out into the world and potentially getting rejected. But it was also because, let’s face it, making deep structural changes to your story is hard work.
When writing my novel, these difficulties grew tenfold. I didn’t know where to begin. With six points-of-view, my story felt like a maze. And I wrote the thing! Imagine how my readers would feel.
Luckily, I discovered mind mapping, which helped me get a bird’s eye view of the story. This made the revision process infinitely easier and more enjoyable. I use XMind, but there are many mind map and concept mapping apps out there.
Feel like your story is slipping out of your control? Here’s how seeing the big picture can help you rein it in:
- Construct a coherent timeline
Stepping back from your story by mapping out all the plot points, settings, and characters on a single screen can help you see it instantly and clearly. It’s easy to repeat information or leave major plot holes without realizing it.
I listed each character’s POV in a horizontal line. Underneath them, I then wrote a brief summary of every chapter pertaining to that character. Seeing the scenes displayed in chronological order allowed me to hone in on inconsistencies.
- Make connections between key plot points
Viewing all the major scenes in your story displayed in one place allows you to link together otherwise unconnected moments. For instance, you may find that a character’s dream on pg. 2 is connected to his epiphany on pg. 122. Then you can rework the scenes in a way that shows the connection between these two events. That way, every scene is driving the story forward in a purposeful way.
- Sort out loose threads
Without a broader perspective, your story can turn into a jumble of unrelated scenes and characters. Sure, some of those scenes may need to go, but mind mapping can help you consolidate.
For instance, one of my characters didn’t have a name. I kept referring to her by her physical description, which quickly got annoying. Plus, did readers really need another character to keep track of? Looking at my mind map, I realized the lady and the character Mrs. Tompkins could be the same person. Problem solved.
- Batch scene revisions
Editing each scene one at a time can lead to fatigue after a few hours. Even if you’re in the zone, you might overlook flaws you would have caught with fresh eyes.
Mind mapping makes the process much more efficient. Using the “notes” feature, simply click on a scene and describe any changes you’d like to make. This way you can address every scene you need to change all at once and then gradually implement the changes.
Time to tackle those rewrites you’ve been putting off…
Now, with any productivity tool, there’s always that slippery slope where it turns into a distraction, defeating the purpose. Recently XMind hosted a contest to create the most beautiful mind map. There’s nothing wrong with this per say, but you must approach the app with a clear purpose—to improve your writing. Otherwise you’ll get derailed.
I used to dread making deep structural revisions, but now I love it!
Btw, I know this sounds like a sales pitch. But no, XMind is not offering me a free subscription “in exchange for my honest opinion” (I wish haha). I just really like this tool.
What’s been your experience with mind mapping? What are your favorite apps?