Beginning Worldbuilding with MindNode

Last year, I read Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, an entertaining high fantasy novel featuring quasi-Islamic characters and settings. Reading it solidified my interest in the fantasy genre and made me especially appreciate authors who wrote diverse characters.

I have lived in West Africa for the majority of the last seven years. Throughout that time, I’ve kept a journal in notebooks and on my computer. But I’ve struggled with how to write about things pubwlicly in a way I would feel comfortable rereading years later.

Instead of documenting real life, with all of my own potential biases and projections, maybe it would be easier to create a fictional world inspired by the Upper Guinea region; a place that is marked by the coastal mangrove swamps and rivers in southern Sierra Leone, the highlands of the Fouta Djallon, the island cluster of Bijagós, and the people who live there.

Dense forests, undulating hills and valleys, rivers, swamps, well-trodden footpaths leading from home to farm, villages and towns with thatched huts, isolated hamlets, and palms.

With these images in mind, I started to create a part of my own fantasy world.1 In the previous post, I mentioned my goal of building a world to use for twelve short stories over the next year, in preparation for NaNoWriMo. But I am also interested in worldbuilding for its own sake. At first, I would scribble down notes when I thought of something; simple things like names or a model of government. When I moved my longer digital notes over to Ulysses2, I went crazy making groups and sheets to hold all my thoughts in.

And then I stalled. I’m not sure if it was my previous system with its linear style or my workload at school, but I stopped. Until I discovered the benefits of mind mapping.

“[A mind map] is visually looking at ideas and their connections and relationships with each other.” — David Sparks

I’ve used mind maps with my primary school students for writing preparation in the past, but I always considered them a step before outlines or more traditional note taking, not of value by themselves.

For macOS and iOS users, MindNode is my favorite mind mapping app and it has helped me with worldbuilding. It allows me to brainstorm abstractly and experiment with the places I’m creating. It is also easy to manipulate nodes and mind maps in the same project. MindNode allows for different export options like an image or an outline in Markdown. I transferred my scattered written and digital notes on my four culture groups and spent an hour or so adding and editing nodes. I will examine each culture more closely in subsequent articles, but here is what my mind map looks like now:

The Coast

I named the whole MindNode “The Coast”, because I haven’t come up with a suitable name for this area of my world, or the name of the world in general. The names I do know, however, are my cultures; Belemu, Galija, the Dasasi, and the Jani Republic.

Each culture’s node has characteristics and individual themes. The individual themes are ideas for short stories; something unique about that place that can be highlighted. Characteristics are still a work in progress. I have a few inspirations for the types of government listed for each culture, but the environment is uniquely Upper Guinea.

I listed religions with a “crypto-” prefix. I have not elaborated on how realistic or fictional to go so it is mostly a placeholder for the future. Religion and other characteristics will be highlighted in separate posts.

That’s about it for now. My next task is to continue working on these cultures, create geography, and start constructing some languages. Writing about worldbuilding and my writing goals have driven me to work on them more.

If there are any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! I’d love some feedback and if anyone else is doing the same.


  1. Some might have noticed that I have left out people. It is deliberate. There is far too much heterogeneity even in this particular part of West Africa to adequately describe people. I’m more comfortable putting landscapes into boxes, not people. I am also conscious of the added responsibility of writing people of color as a white male and this is something I want to understand better. 
  2. The undisputed champion of all writing apps for macOS and iOS. I will be writing more about the greatness of Ulysses in the Technology section.