Some of the most welcome feedback I’ve had on Abendau’s Heir is that people like how much detail I go into about my characters. That was really good to hear because it was something I worried about when I was writing Abendau – that my minutiae of the people I wrote about wouldn’t be as engaging to others as me.
Having had that feedback, I thought I’d share one of the tools I find really useful for character writing and, particularly, character interactions.
It’s called the Johari window, and it sounds all mystical and new age-y. It’s actually not – it’s named after the two designers of the model and is pragmatic and easy to apply. It’s used a lot in coaching, counselling and anywhere empathy of another person is needed.
The model shows four key windows of interaction and concerns itself about own and shared knowledge of the person:
Arena – known to self and others
Blind spot – not known to self but is to others
Facade – known to self, but not to others
Unknown – known to no one.
The thing I like about the Johari window is that it’s not a static model. The window changes as we change, it changes based on who we’re interacting with, and it changes with relation to the focus of the story.
For instance if I take my main character, Kare, in Abendau’s Heir and look at a Johari window between him and his wife, it looks like this
Arena: his sense of humour, his fears, that he has powers.
Blind spot: that he keeps himself closed off and can be a dork sometimes.
Facade: the future his father foresaw for him, just what exactly his powers can do.
Unknown: his background and legacy.
But if I look at a window from his mother, it looks like this:
Arena: his heritage on her side, that he was taken by his father, his psi powers
Blind spot: how his powers were merged, what it was planned for him to inherit
Facade: what his father taught him about his mother, what he himself wants for the empire
Unknown: his father’s heritage.
So, you can see that the only place where any parameter remains the same is that of the unknown. Everything else is different – just as the Johari window he carries for each of them is different.
Given that our interaction with others is based on our understanding of them, the window can have a profound impact in terms of how our actions are interpreted, the history that we knock against, the facade a person wants to keep hidden. So, it stands to reason that when I think of how two characters will get on, I think about what they know of each other, how they know it, and what it means before I frame a scene. I believe it gives a greater depth to their interactions. I also believe it brings about the realism that people have mentioned in terms of my characters.
One of my characters, thankfully non-point of view, is a torturer. I won’t map his Johari window to other characters, because the spoilers would be tremendous, but in doing what he does he seeks to reduce the Unknown window, and remove the Facade. He needs to know his victim intimately, in order to understand them enough to destroy them. A few people have mentioned to me how well this relationship – the victim/torturer – works. I genuinely don’t believe I would ever have nailed such a complex theme without thinking deeply about the meaning of their interactions and, for me, Johari is one tool to use to do it.
So, now, tell me – when did you last Johari?