Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Looking Through a Johari Window – Personality Awareness Mapping for Writing Convincing Characters

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 08•11

The military Strategist Sun Tsu wrote: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

While writing can’t be compared to trying to win a battle (unless you happen to be writing about battles) the kind of self-awareness that Sun Tsu wrote of is still important for writing.  Each time you write a new character in your fiction, your goal is to create something more than just a cardboard type of figure. Your characters should seem like real people, with motivations, goals, desires, character flaws and failings.

And just like real people, your characters can have some level of self-awareness or practice self-deception. One useful tool to help you figure out your character’s level of self awareness is called a Johari window.

The Johari window was created in 1955 as a cognitive psychological tool to help people understand their relationships and the way they communicate.

Start by drawing a box. Then divide the box into 4 quadrants. The box should resemble a window with 4 panes of glass. Now, above the top of the box, label the left two quadrants as “Known to Self.” The things that you list in these quadrants are things that your character knows about themselves. Label the right two quadrants as “Not Known to Self.” The things that go into these quadrants are things that your character can’t see about themselves, but others can tell about them.

Now on the left side of the box, label the top two quadrants as “Known to Others.” These are things that others can tell about your character. Label the bottom two quadrants as “Not Known to Others.” These are things that other people can’t tell about your character.

The four quadrants now have distinct divisions. The top left quadrant is where things that your character knows about themselves and others know about them as well will go. For this reason, this quadrant is known as the arena quadrant. These can include physical traits like hair and eye color. Or it can be things that your character reveals about themselves. If your character stands up and announces that they have a tattoo on their left cheek (non-facial), then that fact now goes into this quadrant. Otherwise it would remain in the lower left quadrant (known to self, but not known to others).

The lower left quadrant is for things that a character keeps concealed from others. This can include all secretes — everything from an unsavory family history to facts that a character might be ashamed of. For this reason, the lower left quadrant is known as the façade quadrant.

The upper right quadrant is known as the blind spot quadrant because everything that others can tell about your character, but your character can’t tell about himself goes here. Imagine your character goes to a party, and is nervous. He doesn’t realize this, but he keeps giggling uncontrollably.  Your character may think he’s being suave, but everyone else can tell that he’s really nervous. This is a blind spot.

The lower right quadrant is an interesting quadrant because it is saved for things that neither your character nor the people that he or she interacts with knows. If your character is adopted, neither he nor others may know the identity of the character’s real parents.

Once you have a Johari window, start filling out the window with adjectives that can describe your character. Determine which descriptors go where, and why they go there. Is your character caring? Brave? Adaptable? Greedy? Wise? Why does everyone think that your character is shy when he thinks that he’s outgoing?

Figuring out these traits of your character can help inform conflict. It’s also a good tool to help spark ideas for plots and subplots that you can put your characters through.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.