The Johari Window for Writers

Quebec City - Bruce Witzel photo

I recently shared a model of self-disclosure called the Johari Window on my Saying What Matters blog. In my post today, I want to discuss the use of this model as a tool for character development and transformation in novel writing.

Johari Window

If you study the model for a moment you will notice that it represents four distinct quadrants of knowledge. The analogy of windows is used to stress the fact that, for each individual, the window is opened or closed to a certain degree and this window configuration is always changing. Let’s relate these four quadrants to character development:

  1. What everyone knows about the character including the reader. If a character reveals a bit more about self, then this window opens wider.
  2. What a character knows about self and doesn’t reveal to anyone else – this can significantly drive a plot forward and be a wonderful means of creating dramatic tension. For the reader who is inside the point-of-view of a particular character, having this knowledge when other characters don’t can create immediacy and intimacy with a character.
  3. What another knows about a character but the character doesn’t know – when one character reveals a blind-spot to another all kinds of sparks can fly. We know how this feels in real life, so it is easy to imagine how our characters will react.
  4. What no one knows about a character – this becomes an area ripe for insights, epiphany moments and revelations, not only for the character in question but for other characters and the reader.

In the course of any novel worth reading, characters are emotionally transformed in a way that is significant to the plot by dramatic action in the story. No action – no transformation – no story. Action drives a character’s discoveries in these various quadrants and as the window configurations change, transformation occurs.

The Johari Window could become a valuable model for developing your character’s unique point-of-view and deciding the actions that need to take place to push your plotlines along.

Let’s take Lisa-Marie, one of the significant characters from the Crater Lake Series, and use this model to study her transformation.

When Lisa-Marie is first introduced, everyone knows she is Bethany’s niece who has come to stay at Crater Lake for the summer. She is sixteen, she’s witty and she has a bit of an attitude. But Lisa-Marie definitely has her secrets and though the reader is in her point-of-view often, these are not revealed all at once. Through the literary device of her diary, Lisa-Marie works at not only revealing things for the reader, but opening wider her own window of self-knowledge. Justin, the young man that Lisa-Marie has set her sights on, sees things in her that she hasn’t yet discovered about herself. When he reveals some of these blind-spots to her, dramatic tension ramps up. But ultimately, these revelations contribute to Lisa-Marie’s self-knowledge and along with the discoveries she has already made about herself she is transformed.

New Denver 2 - Bruce Witzel photo

Suggestions for using The Johari Window

Take one of your important characters and list in point form the types of knowledge that would go in each quadrant. Estimate the degree to which each window is open or closed. Do this exercise for that character at the beginning of the novel and at the end.

  • Has transformation occurred?
  • What action (taken by a character, created by character interactions, coming from outside the character) will move these windows?

Please, let me know what you think of the Johari Window as a tool for character development. I’m all ears!

17 comments on “The Johari Window for Writers

  1. smilecalm says:

    i’m willing to make a window display for the neighbors
    just to see what we learn about
    each other 🙂

    • I love the imagery of this – all of us with our windows facing out to display what we know of self – then the neighbours could drop by and jot in their knowledge and we could go next door and do the same. Maybe then we could stop seeing through a window darkly.

  2. reocochran says:

    I like the way you feature ways to improve our communication and spreading some of our knowledge of writing. This is a great idea but I don’t post photos… just words to share…. thanks for the way you wrote this to make us all aware of the Johari Window for Writers.

    • I’m glad you found it useful. It is kind of cool to take a concept and spin it on it’s ear a bit. Fiction writers have to see their characters from the inside out in order to present them in a realistic manner. A picture says a thousand words – right?

  3. Anthony Turi says:

    Hello there. I think this is a great idea. I am familiar with the concept of the Johari Window, but had not considered using it in this way. So this is a really helpful post. Thank you very much.

  4. jane tims says:

    Hi. Very interesting. I am going to use this to examine my characters. Thanks for the insight. Jane

  5. diannegray says:

    I’ve never thought of using the The Johari Window for characters, Francis. What a brilliant idea 😀

  6. Great tactic. There are so many keys and elements to driving a story and fleshing a character and this strategy would definitely be a thorough strategy for making things happen.

    Stopping by to wish you and yours a peaceful, joyful, healthful holiday season, Francis. :))

  7. dex says:

    Wow. Some really amazing food for thought!

  8. Helen says:

    hello from the Uk! I have just started a writing course – write a novel in 5 weeks! Little bit scary but great for a first timer 😉 This is week two and we talked today about characters – it struck me then I should look for Johari Window – couldn’t remember what it was called though, but a few minutes searching on the internet and I came across your article. Fab and cannot wait now to build my characters – though it’s getting late now, so will look at them tomorrow.
    Thank you! Hel

    • Hi Helen – so glad you came across this post! Character building is an exciting endeavour. I wish you the best of luck. And also for the write a novel in five weeks. Go girl!

  9. Mostak says:

    I want to write some awareness post on various psychological issues. This article will really help me to understand my reader and what I actually want to share with others. I have never thought Johari Window concept this way. Thank you for your nice post.

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