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Basic Outlining Guide for Story Characters

written by: DeborahWoehr•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 7/7/2011

Do you want to learn how to create a basic outline with the mind mapping technique? Then follow along as I guide you on how to draw up a basic outline for your story’s characters.

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    I am going to assume that you do not have a mind mapping application so that I can recommend one for you. It’s called MindNode. MindNode is a free mind mapping application that will help you with the basic outlining of your characters. The only downside to the free version is that it will not let you import images.

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    What Does Your Character Look Like?

    We always get a mental picture of a person when we talk to them over the phone or via email. Most of the time, the person looks nothing like we pictured inside of our minds. The same is true for your characters.


    The first step in this basic outlining guide is to find a picture that best resembles your character. This guy jumped out at me while searching for another character at Stock.xchng. He is the perfect fit for one of the minor characters in my first book.

    After I download this picture, I opened MindNode and typed Nathaniel in the box. When I hover my mouse over the box, I see a Plus sign appear on the right side. That plus sign lets you draw branches from the main topic. Alternately, you can click the plus sign button on the top left corner of the MindNode toolbar to add another branch.

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    Building His Basic Character

    Nathaniel 1 In the example above, you will see that I have created two branches. The first branch involves his full name. Names can signify a great deal about someone’s personality and self-esteem. Would Nathaniel have the same confident look if his mother had named him Myron or Sterling? Maybe. In this case, Nathaniel is his second name. His full name is Walter Nathaniel Javier Gutierrez.

    Let’s move on to the second branch, which lists Nathaniel’s descriptors. I have listed the most basic information about his looks. In the photograph, it’s hard to tell how tall Nathaniel is. However, I can list his hair color, skin tone and eye color. I will have to guess at his height, weight and distinguishing marks.

    Nathaniel 2 

    The third branch of this basic outline involves Nathaniel’s personality. He looks pretty content in the photograph. But as you can tell in the outline, he has a dark side.

    Nathaniel 3 

    The image above shows more branches that I have added. When creating the basic outlines for your characters, you can include whatever you want. The most important branch to include in your character outline is his role in your story. The rest of the details won’t matter if you are not clear about how he is going to move your story in the direction that you want it to go.

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    I have given you instructions on how to draw a basic outline with the mind mapping technique. Don’t stop at the basics. Expand your mind maps until they are as detailed as you need them. I have written two other articles that will give you the best free outlining tools and the best paid outlining tools. If you want more than what MindNode has to offer, feel free to check out these articles.