How to write a great story

I have frequently come across this question during talk sessions, magazine interviews, on my facebook page and personal meet-ups etc; Is there any technique to write a good novel? The question comes straight out of an aspiring writer's pocket of inquisitiveness. Most of the time I simply shrug away from the question because providing a reasonable answer to such a question is definitely not a convincing task. I mean, obviously, having a great vocabulary (or building one), grammatical proficiency, a creative mind (some are gifted, others have to create it) and most importantly how to tame a creative mind. I still remember my high school English teacher telling us about how Samuel Taylor Coleridge gifted 'Suspense of disbelief' to the literary world under the frequent influence of opium. Not that I am advising youngsters to find refuge in various methods of intoxication to boost their creativity, as it simply does not. Intoxication is a trigger self-destruction, the very antonym of 'creation'.
One can not tame the mind that way. How can one tame the mind then?
The mind is never stable, it is filled with vibrant and most of the times volatile ideas and the nature of these ideas define creativity of a being. One moment an idea booms up your brain and the very moment its gone! However, had you had some way of retaining it, you could build on it gradually. Now, this is how a writer works... over that idea he saw in his weird dream on a starless night in the monsoon or while talking to an ex from a long forgotten past. By collecting ideas and letting it grow on paper or in a semi-tangible form which is easily accessible to you(paper, excel spreadsheet etc). This leads us to mindmaps.

What is a mindmap?

"A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information. A mind map is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches."
This is what wikipedia will tell you and as in most cases, is accurate.
Mind maps are an important tool in gathering ideas fruitfully in almost every professional field (engineering, planning, management etc). In fact, many of us actually use it mentally, unaware of it.
Now, on the right I have provided you with a sample mind map that I created couple of years back for my debut novel When Strangers meet.. (which you can buy from here). I prepared this on an excel spreadsheet because I was not really comfortable to do it on a piece of paper. In fact, sometimes the mind maps can be so cumbersome and crowded that a single piece of A3 sized sheet becomes too little. If you are hand user, then definitely go for a larger chart paper.

How to make  mind map (for writing fiction):
    1. Get a paper/spreadsheet
    2. At the center draw  small circle. The circle is your idea (or the title of your book)
    3. Use an imagery/key for idea (i have used a light bulb, a universal convention)
    4. Time to branch out. What are the key elements of any story? Every one will come with something, let us generalize it for ease (You don't obviously have to follow my categorization, you can come up with your own):
      1. Characters 
        Protagonist (The main character, irrespective of gender)
        Antagonist(The villain, in conventional terms)
        Catalyst (The one leads the protagonist/antagonist to the climax)
        Love Interest (Pro's ooh la la)
        Best Friend (The one who's always there for the Pro)
        Supporting (Prime characters like mothers, sisters etc)
        Supporting (Secondary characters like inspectors, detectives etc)
        Cameos
        Significant Others
        Insignificant Others
      1. Settings
      • Time (When story takes place) - Present, Flashback (if any)
      • Location (Where story takes place)
      1. Plot (The premise and how it proceeds)
      • Introduction (the pro is introduced to the reader)
      • Encounter (how different characters meet each other)
      • Build ups (Bonding between characters etc)
      • Flashback (blast from the past)
      • Revelations
      • Climax
      • Twists (We all love it)
      • Out (How we end it)
      • Convergent (other parallel ideas that will fall into the plot)
      • Divergent (parallel ideas that will branch out of the plot)
      1. Theme (the various themes conveyed, not genre of your fiction)
      2. References (or in other words Inspiration)
          • Movies
          • Music
          • Novels
          • Real world
        1. Branch out further, if you have more than one setting, then label it as 1,2,3 etc. In WHEN STRANGERS MEET.. there are two settings, namely the present and the flashback. I have used 1 to indicate everything that is to deal with the present setting and 2 for the flashback. This will be keyed across all the branches and sub-branches
        2. Try to keep everything as neat as possible but do not increase the distance between the branch as it will only use up your area of work. try to fit in your entire idea on one chart or the size of your screen (+/- 240 pixels)
        3. be as brief as possible, no need for punctuation or grammatical accuracy. This is like making notes from your college lecture.
        4. Use shorthand and images wherever possible, although I have not used any, but you can always do it and it will be fun. Use photos for your characters. But use minimum complication as the mind map will eventually grow in size and too much creativity can make it complicated and unreadable
        5. Update your mind map regularly, that is why I prefer an excel spreadsheet. Make new ones for a different or parallel idea for the same title. Converge them later.
        6. Connect the dots, keep revising and revisiting every night. Brainstorming is important. Mind map is a result of brainstorming and your story will be a result of continuous mind mapping.
        7. Make it happen, WRITE!

        Buy nowThat's it! Pretty simple, right? Try creating a mind map for your fiction and see if you can use it in your favor. You can send me your mind maps for evaluation (email - harryislive@gmail.com). I would love to know how your experience with mindmapping and trust me, once you start it you might either end up hating it or loving it (like me)!
        Don't forget to leave your valuable comments here and share this with your friends. Now that you have seen the mind map used for my novel When Strangers meet.. why don't you try reading it (again) to see how well it has served the story of the Stranger? You can download it from Kindle or buy it from flipkart. Don't forget to like my official page : www.facebook.com/KathaHariK

        Good luck mindmapping!

        #peaceout

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