May 16, 2011

Technology, Outlines, and FreeMind

FreeMind is dangerous to one's productivity levels. It eats its way into your good intentions and leaves you wondering just where the time got to.'s really fun. And perhaps even helpful. After noticing it on Ara's blog I downloaded it, but expected that it would go the way of other such programs - down into the deep, dark depths of the computer where it would languish until the computer crashed. That happened after I tried yWriter (except for the computer-crashing part); it was just too segmented and demanding.

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."


  1. I sympathize. :) When I saw Ara's post about FreeMind, I downloaded it and thought the same thing--I had tried yWriter, too, and it is now languishing somewhere on my computer. FreeMind, however, works so well for my visual mind. I love how I can color-code, connect, etc. I've been using it to help me plot out a retelling of an Arthurian legend that I'm working on--I like to leave some "holes" so that I have room to play, but I need to at least make sure that the general plot of the story matches up with the original legend. :)

  2. Ooh, Arthurian - sounds fun! Have you watched any of the BBC series "Merlin"? Very fun new take on the Arthurian legends.

    That's what I like about FreeMind, too. It's very flowing and everything is connected, whereas I found with yWriter that it was too segmented for my mind. However, I know that the categorical approach works better for some people.

  3. I have, actually. One of our local TV stations had shown it for a few weeks, but then stopped. The only way I can watch it now is if a) we're on vacation and the hotel has cable, or b) I watch it online. :) The legend I'm retelling is the story of Sir Gawain and Dame personal favorite. (Gawain has always been my favorite knight.)

    Exactly! yWriter is a good idea, it just doesn't work well for my mind. I love the way FreeMind works. It makes such sense and it's nice to have everything in one place. Before, I would have multiple WORD documents with bullet lists, characters, plotting, etc. Now I can condense it (though I still use WORD for my detailed character sheets) and be able to view it all at once!

  4. Ahhh, Abigail! I suggested the purchase of your book to quite a few libraries in my general area (about twenty, methinks), one of them ordered it, and I shall have it in my hands as soon as they get it all registered into the system and can send it to the library closest to where I live. It already has its own little page and picture on the library website and everything. ^.^

    I cannot begin to express how excited I am to read "The Soldier's Cross". My heart-rate jumped through the roof when I found out about this... Now I'm just hoping these libraries have the good sense to buy Jenny's book, too.

    Anywhoo, just had to tell you. ^.^ FreeMind looks very interesting and useful -- perhaps I'll give it a try.

  5. Aw, thank you, Katie! You're a dear. I hope you enjoy it, especially after all that work on its behalf! Do you know where the library bought it from?

    FreeMind is a lot of fun, and it's also easy to download and figure out. I'm always paranoid about downloading things...

  6. Interesting. I'll have to take a closer look. As you probably know, I'm a devout yWriter convert, but I'm always on the look for helpful new software. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I did know you used yWriter; I actually found your blog through the yWriter video you did. I don't tend to use many different venues of technology, though. I'm rather surprised that I like FreeMind so much! If you do try it, I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
find me elsewhere
take my button


Follow by Email

published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

Bookmarks In...

Search This Blog