But FreeMind did not turn out to be that way. I began poking about, trying different buttons to see what they did, and became quite absorbed in the task. I found that at the very least, it is a convenient place to lay out one's plot in outline form, keep track of characters, take notes on locations, and arrange facets of the story in a way that flows logically. I can't say how beneficial it would be for developing the plot, as I already had mine laid out, but it is an excellent means of keeping track of little elements that might otherwise get lost in the clutter.
This is the (mostly) finished product of my endeavor, based on Ara's mapping technique for her novel Riven. On the right I placed the actual outline, separated into the broad segments Beginning, Middle, and Climax; and on the left I put the other information I wanted for quick reference: the Main Characters, the Secondary Characters, the Tertiary Characters, and the Locations. This is a pretty basic layout, but its simplicity makes it easy to follow.
Plot Outline Confession: I don't read books on writing. The great writers like Dickens and Austen didn't, and I don't see why I ought to. I've studied (and continue to study, although not in the stricter sense) grammar and I glean from the books, fiction and non-fiction, that I read, but I don't read books on writing. However, I do know that most authors of writing books discuss how every story is separated into three sections: Beginning, Middle, and Climax. The Beginning and the Middle each have their conflict and climax, which are then tied off in the final Climax. (Ara just wrote an article on outlining that featured this, under the amusing title When Skeletons Dance.)
My first reaction to that hard-and-fast separation was, "Bah!" I'm still not sure that every story has to be set up in that manner, but when it came down to doing a FreeMind outline for The White Sail's Shaking, I was forced to conclude that it, at least, is. As Elizabeth Bennet says, "That would be the greatest misfortune of all! - To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! - Do not wish me such an evil." But anyway, I accepted the sad truth that my novel had defied me and set to work outlining the three different parts. The Beginning is the largest, perhaps mostly because everything is being set up in that part. The Middle, however, bears the brunt of the action, the conflict, and the tension, and there are more branches off the chapters here as more things are packed into a shorter amount of time. The Climax, which I did not enlarge in the picture for spoilers' sake, is the smallest; it has only three chapters. They are large ones, however, and their branches have branches.
Information I don't know whether I actually needed this section, as it is more firmly cemented in my mind than the actual outline was, but I found it fun to add the different "nodes" and separate everything out. The Main Characters section is closed in the above image because it has spoilers, but there I listed all the major players - Tip, Charlie, Lewis, Darkwood, Marta, and Scipio. I did not do any smaller branches with information on them, as it wasn't necessary, but you could if you wanted. The Secondary Characters is for supporting people, such as Decatur (listed with a Number 1 because he is the "major minor" character); I may add to it later on. I also did a Tertiary Character list for the families of the main characters who appear every now and then and who made the characters what they are. I picked out Tip's and Darkwood's to show what I did here; again, not much detail, but you could add more if you wanted to.
The Locations section I separated into Land and Ships. Neither is all-encompassing, or at least is not yet, but I put the major spots, such as Gibraltar, Syracuse, and Tripoli. This was perhaps the least really necessary part of the mapping, but I admit that I did it because it was fun, and I like having things laid out in an orderly fashion. Most of the time.
Bent regarded him, eyes shifting back and forth between Tip's, and then asked, "Are we?"
"I don't know. I've always thought it takes more than one to make a friendship."