I am a huge fan of using MindMapping techniques when writing, to help with inspiration for plots, characters and ideas. Drawing mind maps helps me far more than simply writing lists on paper or on a computer screen.
If you haven’t heard of Mind Maps, then the concept was created by Tony Buzan four or five decades ago, as “a creative and logical means of note-taking and note-making that literally ‘maps out’ your ideas” [mindmapping.com], and “it is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the centre of a blank page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added.” [Wikipedia] Which is exactly how I use it – although I don’t follow the technique rigidly with drawing pictures, using different colours etc (although I admire anyone who does!).
I often start by putting my protagonist (or another key character) in a circle in the middle of the page, and then spreading my ideas and lines outwards, adding his/her relationships, jobs, ideas for their progress, plot thoughts, themes, locations and so on. Whatever you want, whatever helps you. I link them together with lines and more circles and before you know it, you are creating wider and wider circles, and lines of ideas, and your inspiration is there on paper. Seeing it ‘diagrammatically’ this way is so much better than a long bullet point list in Word.
I find it especially helpful when I am first thinking about a new story. I may already have a simple, central idea in my mind, but when I draw it out as a Mind Map, it gives me a far better process for expanding it and making me see what is good – or not so good. I have also found that I have come to a point with some story ideas where I cannot make the Mind Map work, and that is probably because the idea is either not good/strong/wide enough for a novel, or I am just not there yet in terms of making it a fuller story. In which case, I put the paper on one side; I rarely throw away half-complete pages in case I want to come back to the idea again one day.
I include an example of one of my Mind Maps for a new novel in this image here – click on it to enlarge. I have not done this so you can specifically read the circles/lines – sorry, my handwriting is appalling! – but more to show you what I mean.
If you want to know more about MindMapping then have a look at Tony Buzan’s books or MindMapping.com.