Design Characters using Mind Maps

How do you design your characters? Some sources recommend filling in a questionnaire or CV. You need to answer questions like “what is her favourite film?”, or “what does he drink?” etc. This doesn’t work for me, because by the time I know the answers to those kind of questions I have written my novel.

I design my characters in the same way you might find out about someone in real life. When you first meet someone new, you form an opinion based on appearance, circumstances and other immediate evidence. As you get to know them, more evidence is revealed to you and your opinion of them may change. Eventually you might discover a dark secret that completely changes your view of them. If you know someone for a very long time, their character may change as a result of their experiences, which may also change your view of them.

This is how I design characters. I usually start with a mind map:

I love drawing mind maps, and I often use them for note taking when I’m in a boring meeting or presentation (I also create characters, plots, settings etc in meetings using mind maps, but don’t tell my boss).

I put the character’s name or role in the middle of a blank page, then I add 4 radiating lines (see link above for good explanation and method). I might label each line; name, motivation, description and events. But I use many other things for labels depending on my need at the time like; background, job, relationships with other characters, romance, ambition, fears, etc.

I like to draw images and use colours in my mind maps. You can buy software to help you draw mind maps but I like to use pen, pencil and paper, because I find it is more creative for me. I’m not creating a work of art. I’m not doing it to show to anybody else. Drawing a mind map is both a creative process (it helps my imagination) and a record. I keep them as a reminder, aide-memoire and stimulation.

As I write my novel I might do more than one mind map of a character, because, like in real life, I am learning more about the character as the story develops and more evidence is revealed to me. So just before an event in a story I might think “how are these 2 characters going to be involved in the event?” I get out mind maps I have already drawn for them and I draw new mind maps specifically for the event and the 2 characters. This often helps me to solve problems like “how do I get them both there at the same time?” etc because I am very creative when drawing mind maps.

That’s it. I make characters up as I go along using mind maps to help creativity and to record my ideas. If I was writing a series with the same characters, I think I might redraw the mind maps after each book as a record of each character’s role in the book so that I don’t forget.

How do you design your characters and record them? Do you use questionnaires, CVs, data cards, databases? Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Illustration by Mindmapper4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. says

    Liked this way of knowing your characters, Christopher; very appealing to this pantster writer-girl. Love that you sneak it in at the day-job too. We writers really do live with these people in our heads in so many ways, lol.

    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    The Wild Rose Press

  2. Elle says

    Cool. I’m nowhere near as organised though. Characters live in my head and evolve more quickly than I can type.