Skip to main content

Using the Johari Window to Create Fictional Characters

Though I love a good story, I am drawn to fiction with strong, likeable characters.
How does a writer accomplish this?
There are hundreds of books on characterization, and I have studied quite a few excellent ones, but I have discovered an answer in the most unlikely place – the science of cognitive psychology.  I use a simple heuristic that was developed in 1955 to explain how a person presents himself and interacts with others. It is called the Johari window.
It looks like this -

Each quadrant is called a window and it studies the human being from four different perspectives.
How persons represent themselves to others is called the Open Window. It is how they dress, act, and react. This is how they want to be perceived. 

It sometimes differs from how others see them. In the Blind Window, the person is unaware that others might judge them differently than how they presented themselves.
In the Hidden Window, they keep things to themselves they do not want others to know or that only very few might know but are not allowed to share with others. Sometimes they might not even acknowledge some of these inner conflicts to themselves.
The fourth window, the Unknown, lies the unforeseen future. It might happen in the immediate future or it might lie far ahead, but everyone eventually encounters a test or a crossroad, and they will have to respond employing the traits displayed in any or all the other windows.   
I owe my gratitude and my apologies to Drs. Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham since I took their heuristic and adapted it for my own use - to create fictional characters.
I use a five by eight index card (for its convenience and its size), and I divide one side into four equal squares, imitating the Johari graphic model. I use one card for each character I am developing and I fill in each square to flesh out my characters and their story. (I use the back side to keep additional notes on the character – dates, plot points, details, etc.)
I start with the Hidden Self quadrant because this square houses the inner conflict and drives all the others. I explore the character's secrets, fears, - anything that the character keeps hidden from others.  This is the vulnerable side of the character and drives all the other squares. It contains the story. 

The “hidden self” will influence how the character dresses, how they act, how they react to others. Like a mannequin in a store window or an actor in a movie, I dress the character and place them in the Open Window.  

I look for some qualities that might be easily misinterpreted or misconceived and will fit in both the Open and in the Blind Window.  For example, a person who has a traumatic past (hidden self) will dress and act a certain way either to deflect attention or put on a false bravado (open self), but others might misinterpret the character as cold or distant (blind self) since they do not know the person’s hidden past.
By filling in the Johari, the character becomes rounded and solid – a realistic person who stands out from the others and draws attention from the reader.

He/she is now ready to face the Unknown.

The Unknown quadrant houses the outer conflict, the quest, the challenge. The character will respond based on the traits the author developed in the other three quadrants, but especially those in the Hidden Self where the inner conflict and the character's story lie. This conflict will test the character’s resolve, and it is how he/she responds that the author has created a satisfactory story with realistic characters and a believable resolution. 


Popular posts from this blog

Finding My Muse

1)Because my muse has a wicked sense of humor and visits me at odd times and in inconvenient places, I have learned to record inspirations/ideas immediately before I forget them or they dissolve into nothing. I carry small notebooks, own a digital recorder, and have been known to text messages home. I will scribble on anything – old napkins I find in my glove compartment or old receipts. I even pop out of bed in the middle of the night to jot things on sticky pads. 2)Calendars are great places to find topics. I use important dates, seasons, and upcoming holidays to plan blog posts. I can also go back into my work calendar to refresh my memory about meetings, conferences, or books I have read that might be worth sharing with others.   3)I will sit with a good cup of coffee, pen and paper ready, and read the newspaper searching for topics, interesting characters, or modern trends.  News channels and other newsfeeds are just as good.   4)I love to read the TV and movie guides for titles and…

The Girl Who Eats Canned Spinach

I went to a Catholic elementary school run by strict Belgian nuns, and we could not leave the cafeteria until we ate everything served on our food tray. Once a week, they served warmed, canned spinach with our meal. The spinach tasted nothing like the way my grandmother made it, but I ate it. I gulped it down in three or four bites and it amazed my table mates. I told them we ate it at home so I was used to the taste. Now, my real problem began the day I ate the spinach off my friends’ trays so we could go play outside. As soon as the nun monitoring the cafeteria turned her back, my friends ate something off my tray I didn’t want, and I ate their serving of spinach. I only did it for two of my table mates, but the word spread. On the next Spinach Day, kids followed me to my table.I was suddenly very popular, and as soon as the nun marched off to the other end of the cafeteria, my friends and an army of others who only knew me as The Girl Who Eats Spinach, begged me to take their servin…

Facing My Fear of Guns

With the ownership of firearms comes responsibility, so I had asked HoneyBunch several times to teach me how to shoot and to help me get my License to Carry. I got my wish two weeks ago. HB and I signed up to take a LTC class. He bought me a gun, one similar to his, that would be the type we needed to show shooting proficiency, and for one whole week he tried to get me to become familiar with it, but I was hesitant. I read the booklet that came with the gun. I practiced loading and shooting it in what is called dry shooting (no bullets), and since the flyer said I would have to shoot thirty shots at different distances, I finally tried with it loaded. I was a nervous wreck. The class of twelve turned out to be close to forty people. We were of all ages, colors, and genders, and I was glad I wasn’t the only woman my age. The shooting test came first, and we were separated into two groups. Those who were proficient (or thought they were) would shoot first, and those who were novices wou…