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4 Ways Mind Maps Help With Storytelling and Writing - Treasure Chest of Memories
Graphic with title 4 ways mind maps help with storytelling and space connections behind a mind map schematic.Did you know that mind maps can help you with storytelling?

What are Mind Maps?

In case you aren’t familiar with them, mind maps are visual thinking tools which represent ideas graphically. They are really a brainstorm on steroids. Usually, they start with a central concept with related ideas sprouting outward.

Whether you’re writing about your own memories, family or ancestor stories, or fiction, mind maps help during all stages of the process—conception, research, writing, and editing.

Like any brainstorming tool, mind maps work best when you turn off your inner critic and let your ideas flow. You can come back to them to make changes and enhancements.

You don’t need colored pens or an app. In my case, different colors help my disorganized brain digest the information.

This article features mind maps I created with apps because my handwriting tends to be hard to decipher. If you want to read more about the apps available, click on over to Mindmapping Software for Writing and Family Storytelling. 

Mind Maps help determine how to approach the story.

Ever encounter a story that’s too big to grasp? I have several.

Van Buren Field Clark

My great-great-grandfather was my maternal grandmother’s role model. She passed down multiple stories about him, but I’d like to research more and tell the “rest of the story” about his life.

Example from Van Buren Field Clark MInd Map helps how to approach a story with different life events

The above mind map helped me visualize the possibilities.

Next, I’ll annotate it with available resources and decide which angle I want to pursue.

George More

Another ancestor, born in 1553 to an aristocratic household, is a trickier person to write about.

It’s hard to shed my 21st century, American mindset to understand the life of George More. I used a mind map to help me process his contexts. (I started with an app called Coggle, but used Photoshop for some of it, as Coggle won’t let you change font-sizes etc. for free).

The amount of information I found on George More was almost overwhelming. It’s also possible I spent too much time staring out the window in my Western Civilization classes. So, I threw some of my findings into a mind map.

Coggle adapted mindmap helping to determine contexts for stories



My ancestor’s setting was England from 1553 to 1662. Shortly before George’s birth (1536-1541), Henry VIII disbanded monasteries and convents in England, Wales, and Ireland. I was having trouble wrapping my head around the ripple effects of this drastic change. How would that have affected George and his family?

I wondered about his personal religious views. That’s hard to suss out too, because the More family’s well-being lay in staying in good stead with the crown.

Looking at their homes, I discovered the ruins of the pulled-down monasteries served as a 16th century Home Depot.

I haven’t written about my More ancestors yet (although others have), but this gives me a lot of food for thought and creativity.

Mind Maps Help Identify Resources

To write about my ancestor John Wilkinson, I need to figure out more about his life.

Photo of a mind map Help Identify Missing Context Research

In order to write about my ancestor John Wilkinson, I have to figure out more about his life.

I made the above mind map looking at all the resources I could use to find more information about John and his wife Nancy. I also added the names of their children, as they help verify whether records are about the right John Wilkinson.

The results of this mind map went directly into my research log.

Looking at relationships of your characters

To understand your character—factual or not—you need to examine at how they get (or got) along other people. Whether it’s their family, contemporaries, or friends or neighbors, their relationships with others flesh them out.

The below mind map is for a fiction project I’m working on. However, it would work exactly the same with nonfiction “characters”. I used a desktop app called Scapple because I can save it as a text file to complete or edit my thoughts.

Mind maps help you define or flush out the relationship between the people in your story.

My notes are more stream-of-consciousness thoughts than a developed character overview. That’s the beauty of brainstorming with mind maps.

As I made the mind map, I not only articulated the relationships between my main character and other but also how his siblings interacted with each other. These backstories will help me develop the characters as the story unfolds.

When I got to his friends, a theme emerged among the characters: Trust. That discovery led me to a revision.

Mind maps help reveal themes in your story or book

Mind map helps you visualize the themes in your story.

There are a lot of lines in this one, because I connected bright yellow “theme” notes to multiple characters.

At this point, the mind map is a little like bulbs pushing up in the spring. Not much to look at now, but it promises future beauty.

Mind maps help identify holes in your context

Mind maps help identify holes in your context

This year at RootsTech, Cheri Hudson Passey and I are presenting “From Shock to Understanding: How to Examine, Process, & Write about Uncomfortable Family Discoveries.” (You can watch our trailer here.)

One of our case studies is a court record from Henrico County, Virginia, in which a jury found Joseph Tanner guilty of abusing a horse. Read more at Understanding Your Roots aka My 7x Great-Grandfather Beat a Horse.

Of course, I started a mind map of the context I wanted to present,

Example of mind map that helped identify context

We see a huge discrepancy between Joseph’s lifetime and a timeline of Colonial Virginia. Things changed quickly for the colonists. I can’t simply paint a generic backdrop of “Colonial times” and hope it explains Joseph.

His hometown of Bermuda Hundred was drastically different a few decades before his birth. This very simple mind map made me realize I had to narrow my research to find more applicable context.

Not only have I come away with a much deeper context for Joseph’s life and behavior, that context has helped me process my findings.

Your Turn

Do you use mind maps? How are they most effective for you?

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