I have a general concept for a science fiction novel. I have a habit of looking for information from books and scholarly journal articles to help "fill in the gaps" with such ideas. In the last few days, I have thought of concept mapping as a tool to accomplish this. However, what I don't want to do is write a thesis. I want to be rigorous to a point with concepts from scientific or philosophical literature, but I also want to be able to use a "poetic license" to lend my own interpretation of how concepts relate in relation to my story concept. I am curious if other science fiction writer's use concept maps, and, if so, can they offer case studies? Otherwise, would there be other examples of how science fiction writers do research besides concept maps as well?

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I don't write Sci-fi, but I do write Fantasy and Historical Fiction and do tons of research.

I usually use concept mapping only for processes and relationships between characters, places or whatever. As for information from books and scholarly sources, I usually make detailed notes in a wiki fashion (I use a software for RPG GMs, Realm Works). When I get down to plotting or writing, I can easily go back to my notes for ideas or to remind myself of how things work.

If I want to take poetic licence on a certain topic, I usually add a snippet/paragraph where I register my take on the matter and how I intend to use it. For example, in one story I reference a jet that actually exists. I have a list of all the stats for that particular jet but I decided my heroes would make slight adjustements so I added my 'story stats' to the entry on the jet. That way, I can always keep track of reality and fiction.

For my historical fiction, I distinguish between historical events that are known, that are probable, that are suggested and that are invented by me.

I find that concept mapping becomes less useful when they become too large, so I simply create several for specific points.


Realm Works, the software I use, allows users to create 'articles'. Let's say I've got an article for each character and place in my story. I can then write more or less detailed information concerning each character and place. This can include that character A was born in country Z (and the software can automatically create a link for that particular article) or a list of relationships to the other characters.

Because I work with hundreds of characters and I'm visual, I'll create a concept map (I use yEd for that) to visualise those relationships. Then I export it and insert it in the software as a 'smart map'. This means I can create pins that, once clicked, will take me to the article which holds all the information about that person.

As for research... I'm very particular about respecting historical data. Therefore, I can take notes of articles / thesis / whatever about a historical person, event, technology, etc and insert it as articles. So, when I decide that character B was in Battle P, a link will be created and, when writing, I can easily access all the known details. My research includes known technology (from making ink and dyes with details to ship building and diseases of the time).

  • Thank you, Sara, for your timely and thorough answer. I looked up Realm Works, and it looks like a very useful tool. It sounds like you apply it to writing as well as games?
    – user9885
    Feb 24, 2017 at 19:46
  • I am starting to search for additional integration between concept maps and wikis, given Sara's comment about using a wiki. Here is a possible solution: link. Maybe there are more.
    – user9885
    Feb 24, 2017 at 20:09
  • @user9885: actually don't actually play RPGs. However, the software is designed to organise fantasy worlds so it was the perfect tool to organise my world-building. Once I started, it became apparent it also worked for putting order in my hundred's of characters, events, objects, etc. I insert my concept maps and use them as index pages for almost anything. Feb 24, 2017 at 20:18
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    Sara, how would you insert a concept map into Realm Works? Does it also work for scientific concepts as well as story elements like plot, character, etc.? For example, I may want to find links between the concepts of weather control, neuroscience, and memetics -- cultural evolution (all a work in progress) and relate them to story. Don't mean to be redundant -- I think you mentioned scholarly sources above, but I just wanted to rephrase the issue.
    – user9885
    Feb 24, 2017 at 20:30
  • Hello all again: Got to looking at information on TiddlyWiki (tiddlywiki.com), and I see that it can be used for book and article writing, note taking, and concept mapping (using the TiddlyMap plugin -- tiddlymap.org -- mentioned in above comment). It seems versatile. Need to do more research, though. Maybe I can find a case study to see if it suits my needs...
    – user9885
    Feb 24, 2017 at 20:52

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