Gail Anderson-Dargatz  

Resources for Writers

On Finding Your Big Idea

I'm all about doodling, as many writers are. In fact, I spend a good portion of my writing day doodling. But it's doodling with a purpose, what others call mind-mapping and I call spider drawings. It's doodling as a brainstorming tool. Brainstorming, of course, is any activitiy (tossing things around with a friend, say, or in this case mind-mapping) that aims to generate ideas.

Here’s an example of a spider drawing that maps out that middle school novel I wrote called Iggy’s World:

Iggy Spider Diagram

You can see why I call this method of brainstorming a “spider drawing.” And it's a highly effective way of generating ideas. In fact, once you get the hang of it, you can map out a whole story or even a whole novel in an afternoon. Try it out!

IggysWorld3I suggest you use the biggest blank piece of paper you can find. Allow your imagination room to do its thing! And coloured pencils really help. You can use different colours for different story elements.

Start by drawing a circle in the middle, with, say, your character's name jotted there, as I did with Iggy above. Who would be the best character to tell this story? What point of view should you use? What is the protagonist like? Who are their friends or family? What’s the best situation to throw them into, as you explore the subject you've chosen? Are they entering an art or sporting competition? Getting their first job? Going on a trip alone? What's the setting? A new school? On vacation in another country? Another planet? What does the protagonist want? What's stopping or challenging that character? What are they going to do to reach those goals? What do you think happens in the story? Just let your imagination go crazy and see what ends up on the mind-map.

For more on this useful brainstorming tool, check out how to mind map a novel.

Resource Categories

Blogs on Craft

On the Building Blocks of Fiction

Tips on how to craft vivid scene that allows the reader to experience events right along with the characters.

On Finding Your Big Idea

Insights into the writing process and what a writer's day really looks like, as well as perspectives on research and writing from real life.

On Getting to Know Your Characters

Advice on the many ways you can make your characters come alive on the page for both you and your reader.

On Deciding on Point of View

What is the best perspective from which to tell your story? Writers discuss how they made choices on point of view and voice.

On Choosing Your Situation and Setting

Writers talk about how they use situation and setting to build story and convey emotion.

On Developing Conflict and Structure

From how to work in different genres to finding the real story, writers offer good advice on building conflict and structure.

On Revising

Tips on how to gain distance from your work and to how to re-imagine your next draft.

On Publishing

Writers offer practical advice on the business of writing and promotion, and on the importance of finding a writing community.

On Making a Living as a Writer

Writers offer words of wisdom on living on less.

On The Writer's Life

Writers talk about their life as a writer.

About Gail

Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.