Saturday, April 13, 2013

How To Use Free Mind, Part One: Creating A Simple Plot

It’s been a while since I blogged, and I thought I’d start blogging regularly again. The idea for this 3-part blog series came to me randomly while using the free mind map software called “Free Mind”, which you can download here (it lists the versions by operating system).
I’ve found mind mapping to be an effective way to just get an idea down on paper, without worrying about structure or character development or anything specific about the story. When you mind map a plot in particular, you just focus on the basics first and anything specific later.
The basic things you’d need for your mind map are:
·         Title
·         Main Character(s)
·         Conflict
·         Theme
·         Setting(s)
·         Genre(s)
For an example, I’ll show you the mind map process I’d use if I were to mind map an old story I wrote years ago, back when I had no clue what the rules of writing were. If I were to rewrite it now, it would need a major reworking of both the plot and the characters. But for the sake of the mind map example, it will also allow me to keep it simple.   
The story, at its core, was a coming-of-age fantasy (specifically, portal fantasy) novel, about a girl named Lucille who discovers a mystical doorway in a forest and a wolf chained by that door. The wolf—a shape shifter—explains that he has been waiting for years and years for someone to set him free and for that someone to journey back to the world beyond the door, and help him vanquish the evil. Now, we have our basic idea.
Opening Free Mind, you should get a blank mind map. If not, go to File> New to get a fresh mind map.
In the middle of the page you should get something like this:
       Click that circle and you should be able to edit the text inside the circle (called a “node”)
Here’s where we insert our title: SAPPHIRE PRINCESS. Depending on your novel, the title will be different. If you are still trying to figure out your title, put: WIP in the node bubble. To help figure out your novel’s title, I wrote a previous blog post on finding titles here.
Next, right-click that bubble and you should get a lot of options. Click the option with the light bulb, labeled ‘New Child Node’. A line should appear with a text box.
Label this text box: Main Characters.

Next, who are your main heroes? Do you have a name for them? If so, right-click the Main Characters node and click New Child Node (or press: Insert, on the keyboard) however many times to insert one or more main characters. In this case, I have at least four main characters: Lucille, who is the main heroine. Her mentors—the wolf-shifters—Akoto and Silver and, finally, the main villain, Resmiel.
Within each character’s text node, write as many attributes about them that you know. Age, gender, race, odd clothes or physical looks, favorite color or pet, anything specific to them within the story like powers, or their past, or their role within the story—anything that comes to mind.
If you can’t figure out something or if there is a reason for that trait important to the book, write the question or elaborated answer in a child node connected to that particular trait, like in the example below:

The next thing you should put in a node is: Conflict. Conflict could be as simple as your character missing the bus and having to get to their destination another way, or as complex as saving the world from alien invaders. A few questions to ask yourself when considering the different threads of conflict are:
·         What or who will your characters face in the story?
·         What will your hero have to face in regards to the villain?
·         What will he/she need to come to terms with?
·         What will tear her down, both physically and mentally?
·         What will be her goal/goals within the story?
·         What or who will stand in her way, in regards to succeeding those particular goals?
Create a child node from Conflict to include each main character. Then create nodes from their names, put a possible conflict or conflicts, and add additional details (in more nodes) if required. Some conflicts will involve each character or will be between two characters (such as the main hero and the villain). For this example, I’ve just done a few regarding the character Lucille.
Creating a new node from the title node, the next thing you will detail is: Theme. Theme is possibly the most challenging thing to boil down in a book. What are we trying to say, beyond all those perfectly constructed metaphors? What are we trying to tell the readers? What does this scene, this character, this idea, object or symbol contribute to the overall book, to the big picture—the theme of the book? Your theme could be anything from racism, to good vs evil to love conquers all…so long as the scenes and the plot reflect it.

Next would be Setting. Where does your story take place? What time period? What’s the name of your city or town or fictional world?  What details about the place(s) are important? Put them in nodes if needed.

Finally, the final node you can add is: Genre. What is your novel? Where would you put it on shelves? Would it be a paranormal romance? A fantasy? A historical? A science-fiction novel? As each genre has its rules and requirements regarding plot, it’s important you know what exactly you’re going to write. You can’t have novels straddling too many genres, otherwise it gets confusing for both readers and publishers to know exactly what group and to whom this book is marketed for.

Hopefully this process, while time-consuming, will be helpful in creating a sort of outline and a plot for your novel.
Stay tuned for part two of this series, How To Use Free Mind, Part Two: Figuring Out Character Conflict.
Thanks for reading!
- HC

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Getting the Call: E.B. Black

We are switching gears this week to hear from a writer that decided to go the self-publish route. It sounds like E. B. Black knows a thing or two about marketing and promoting. I'm sure her new book will go far.

Some authors publish their book after getting a call from an agent, other authors publish after getting a call inside themselves. The second kind of call was the one I received.

Most people don't know this about me, but years ago, I ran a general talk forum that was somewhat popular. My friends all tried to do the same and their forums died quickly. I expected that to be the case with me as well.

Instead, my forum lasted for two years, until I deleted it. It had hundreds of thousands of posts and hundreds of members. How did this happen? Because I advertised for my forum every day. I added content to it regularly and held contests on it. I was obsessed with it and got lucky finding the target audience for it.

When I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I began by writing every day. I dreamed that someday I'd be published and in every Barnes and Noble store, until I met several members on AQConnect. I was trying to write my first query letter and needed advice.

I heard about how many of them had self-published. I read their books and was impressed by the quality of them. I realized that although it's very unlikely that a self-published book will sell a lot of copies, it's no less unlikely than me getting a publishing contract and becoming a bestseller.

It reminded me a lot of running that forum and I was thankful for that experience. Advertising is very similar. People get just as annoyed with spamming links to your forum as they do with spamming links to your Amazon Buy page. I learned basic HTML and graphic design in order to keep the lay-out of my forum nice. Now, I use those things to create cover images and format my e-books.

Self-publishing is not for people who don't like doing everything themselves. It's a lot of hard work that doesn't always involve typing out stories. I find it relaxing, but not all writers will feel the same. Because everyone's path in life isn't identical.

Your heart and experiences will call you in the right direction. Follow it.


E.B. Black lives in SoCal with her family and two rottweilers. She daydreams about dressing up like a necromancer for Halloween and fantasy worlds she can throw her characters into.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Getting the Call: Jennie Bates Bozic

Here's a dose of inspiration just in time for Thanksgiving. I'm sure this author is very thankful to be handled by a great agent. Welcome to the latest success story from another AQC regular, Jennie Bates Bozic. She has just recently got the call and is now on submission for her novel, Damselfly. Good luck and best wishes!  

My “Getting the Call” story is different than most because, to those who don’t know my full story, it probably looks like everything worked out for me in record time.  But it’s true that every overnight success is ten years in the making.  In my case, it was eleven.

I began working on my first novel during my sophomore year of college in 2001.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I did know that the world coming together in my head wouldn’t let me go.  For the next nine years, I worked on it from time to time, but would give up in frustration.  I had no idea how to write a novel and I didn’t have the self-discipline to really go after my dream.  But I still wrote in pieces.  I jotted down pages worth of notes.  I shared my scraps with friends and their responses encouraged me to keep trying.  I bought lots of books on writing and storytelling and spent hours wandering around bookstores, trying to get inspired.

After dozens of false starts, I set that book aside and tried a different one.  That went a little more smoothly… until the hard drive of my computer died and I wasn’t able to retrieve my work.  It was gone forever and all I had left were the chapters I had emailed to friends. 

Two years ago, I got married and my husband got fed up with me constantly complaining about how much I wanted to be a writer.  “Why don’t you actually write then instead of talking about it?”

I was mad at him for about an hour, and then the truth of his words sunk in.  So I started writing.  I went back to my first book and cranked out a rough draft.  I took a class in writing for children and young adults.  A year later, I had an extremely rough draft and a terrible query letter. 

I really wanted to make sure everything was completely ready before I sent my first query letter, so I started revising.  As I chopped and sliced and rewrote, the sad realization that my writing reach exceeded my grasp settled down on me.  My skill still wasn’t at the level it needed to be.

I knew at that point that it would be all too easy to give in to frustration and self-pity.  I had worked SO hard, often getting in my daily thousand words even if I’d worked twelve hours that day, and it still wasn’t enough.  But feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to get me any closer to my goal of being a professional author. 

So I sat down and thought long and hard about the kind of story I could write next and I came up with Damselfly.  I wrote the query first and ran it by several people to see if it sounded appealing.  The feedback was encouraging, so I poured myself into writing that novel.  Seven months later, it was finished and I sent out my first queries.

To my great surprise, the first response I got from an agent was not a rejection – it was a full request.  Three weeks and two more full requests later, I woke up one morning and checked my email.  There was an email from one of the agents who was reading my novel.  My heart sank and I opened it. 

And then I screamed.  My husband came running in from the other room, convinced I was dying because I am so NOT a screamer.  All I could do was babble incoherently and hold up the phone so he could read the email himself.

Steven Axelrod wanted me to call him at my convenience to discuss representation. 

It took me a couple of hours to work up my courage, mostly because phone calls with anyone other than family and close friends make me incredibly nervous, which was why I had not included my phone number in my queries. He offered representation right away and then we spent some time discussing what that would mean.  I asked most of my questions, but in my nervousness I forgot about half of them.  Then I told him I would get back to him in about a week because I needed to let the other agents know.

And thus began the longest week of my life.  Eight days later, after an extended deadline due to Hurricane Sandy, I was thrilled to accept Steve’s offer.  I couldn’t be happier and I can’t imagine a better agent for my book and my career.

Hopefully I’ll be getting another call soon – this time with the news that my book has sold!


Bio: Jennie Bates Bozic’s first "book" was a short kid's story about a brother and a sister who are sent to Saturn as astronauts and meet an alien named Kleppy. Bestseller material there, I tell you! She has a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Hillsdale College and a diploma in 3D Animation in Visual Effects from Lost Boys Learning. She has spent the last four years creating visual effects for film and television. If you've watched shows such as The Walking Dead, Grey's Anatomy, The Event, Heroes or Greek, chances are that you've seen some of her work. She is married to a wonderful man that she met in the World of Warcraft and they live in Los Angeles with their two cats.

Jennie's website -


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