The Johari Window for Writers

Johari Window 2 - google image

I’m dusting off an older post today, folks. The Johari Window is a model of self-disclosure that I have used for character development in the past and am in the process of using again.

Study the model for a moment and 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, at any given time, the various windows are opened or closed to certain degrees.

Let’s relate these four quadrants to how our characters develop:

Upper left-hand quadrant: What everyone knows about the character including the reader. If a character reveals a bit more about self, then this window opens wider.

Lower left-hand quadrant: What a character knows about self and doesn’t reveal to anyone else. This quadrant can significantly drive a plot forward and be a wonderful means of creating dramatic tension. When a reader is inside the head of a particular character, knowing that character’s secrets creates a powerful connection.

Upper right-hand quadrant: 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.

Lower right-hand quadrant: What no one knows about a character. This quadrant becomes a ripe area 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 book 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.

The Johari Window is a valuable model for developing your character’s unique point-of-view and pushing your plotlines along.

Let’s take Lisa-Marie, one of the significant characters from my Crater Lake Series. We will 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 edge. These characteristics are obvious to everyone. 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 reveals her past to the reader and opens 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 those blind-spots to her, dramatic tension ramps up. But ultimately, these revelations contribute to Lisa-Marie’s self-knowledge and she is transformed.

Suggestions for using this model:

Take one of your main characters and list in point form what types of knowledge would go in each quadrant. Estimate the degree to which each window is open or closed. If you are in the planning stage, do this exercise for that character at the beginning of the story and for the place you expect that character to be at the end. If you are in a rewriting stage, do the exercise based on how your character actually developed.

Has transformation occurred?

What action (taken by a character, driven by character interactions, coming from outside the character) will (or should have) driven the movement of these windows?

Let me know if using this model would lead to character development in your own work?

Prayer Flags - Guenette photo

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!