Saturday, August 25, 2012

Plotting the mind maps of the imagination...

# "“Did you know that Dickens invented 13,000 characters? 13,000! That’s a character a day for the whole of his working life. What have I done today?" # Nick Hornby/Ben Folds/Pomplamoose

A little while ago (well, almost a year now!) I posted about how I'm lucky enough to have a day job that feeds my creative writing tendencies...  Thankfully, given the day-and-age we're living in right now, I'm happy to say I'm still working in that same role, and this year, my video editing skills have been developing a lot more, particularly on a brilliant project over this summer for Seven Stories - the Centre for the Children's Book.

It's all to run in conjunction with a new exhibition launching in October 2012 based around the How to Train Your Dragon books by Cressida Cowell.  My task was to film British Sign Language translations of interviews with the writer which would appear in the exhibit space at the museum over the next year, as well as glossaries of words also translated into BSL which related to the adventurous world of Vikings.

Not only was this a great project to work on because of getting to hear authors' and illustrators' thoughts about their creative processes (there were also interviews to be translated into BSL with Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt) but as a budding author I was also able to garner some great tips about starting points for new stories...

It was one interview in particular with Cressida Cowell simply called "Maps" which really struck a note with my own scribble tendencies.  Ms Cowell uses a lot of maps in her Viking tales to show the setting of her world filled with dragons, and I completely agree with her that every good book needs a map at the beginning that a reader can refer back to as they progress through the adventure.  But there are also other maps that she talks about, ones that lead the writer, before the reader ever gets the chance to join the story, along the long and winding path to a book's end...



The old idea of "brainstorming" has been re-titled these days to "mind-mapping" to be more politically correct, but they do say old ideas are the best ones, and this is definitely something I do when beginning to work on a brand new story after having the initial germ of an idea.  I'll sit down with as big a piece of paper as I can find (usually an A3 sketch pad) and draw a simple circle in the centre and inside it scribble the story's name or working title... Then I'll begin to scrawl smaller circles all around the central one, adding other ideas that I'd like to bring into the narrative, and when I eventually begin to see links between these ideas, I'll join the circles up with lines across the page (sometimes using different coloured pens or pencils to denote varying plot strands...).  I've even been known to sketch and draw character designs to aid my scribbles (although I'm no fine artist, I'm the first to admit!)  This process doesn't necessarily (and normally never does) happen in one sitting.  I'll do an initial mind-map of vague ideas in the first instance and then go away for a while, off to work or to the shops, or to visit family and friends, and then come back with fresh ideas and perspectives once that first rush of creative juices has spilled out onto the page.  And I think having a "break in proceedings" like this is often needed, because out at the shops or on your way to work, you come into contact with the real world, and that always helps to give new meaning to the fictional universes you're trying to craft as a writer...

One of the tasks I've set myself in continuing to develop my own Official Writing Website in 2012 is a new page that I'm calling "Story Starts" where I'm going to (humbly!) attempt to pass on some of the things I've learned over the past decade beginning my writing life in case they're of use to other budding authors or anyone who just enjoys jotting down stories for their own pleasure.  Mind-mapping and plotting and planning is definitely a major part of what I'll be recommending on that hints and tips page, so it's timely that the project in my day job for the Viking exhibition at Seven Stories came my way this year.

When I think back though, looking for sign posts in my past that pointed the way on my path to becoming a writer, making up maps in order to tell a good story is something I used to do as a child too...  Not only did I have a pastime of creating epic battles with my toy soldiers, but I was always a fan of historical wargaming as a teenager and in secondary school, I also remember meeting up with some friends every few weekends and devising our own games completely from scratch, set in fantasy lands with grids of paper overlaying maps of mythical places that emerged from our imaginations...  They helped satisfy our thirst for good old-fashioned boy's own adventure, crafting strategy and playing games, acting out heroic tales of daring-do...

And even today, as an adventure-seeking adult writer, I'm still on the hunt for the kind of rip-roaring tales that I always loved as a child.  Outside of my writing, (but something that still ties into my practising to map out and plot stories), I've got another hobby of making my own chess set.  Again, based on a game of strategy and a grid system, I've dug out some of my old wargaming figures (never throw out ideas or objects you can use later!), to create both playing sides.  It's going to be a "Dark Ages" themed chess set and will hopefully inspire another planned book I have on my writing agenda in the next few years with the working title of "7/11"...

So there you have it - my current obsession and machinations with making maps in all their glorious forms for my writing... And if you're in the vicinity of Newcastle upon Tyne in the Northeast of England from now until summer 2013, and you want to find a creative cultural centre, go along to Seven Stories and see the "How To Train Your Dragon" exhibition.  And when you see the video installations translated into BSL by ITV SignPost, spare a thought for a humble wannabe writer who's spent a scribble Scandinavian summer putting those videos together...

But the creative adventures continue... and I plan to keep plotting and mapping my way onto new narrative quests, be they grandiose novels or bite-sized stories told on an epic scale... Speaking of such swashbuckling things, a good way to round off this adventurous treasure-trekking post might be to let you see another of my Short Story trailers for one of my fondest stories to date - The Silhouettes & Winds of the Valley, which began life on a large piece of paper, with a frantic scribble-session mind-mapping my way into the plot to chart the final journey of the Pine City Stage...


You can read the full short story across at
my Official Writing Website by going to
the homepage and clicking on 
an object there that looks like 
it might be bigger on the inside 
than the outside!

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