09 October 2007

Writing Lessons: Using a Johari Window

Okay, so you already know how I plan. I'm a fanatic (though this year's planning looks like prep for an extemporaneous speech for which I don't yet know the subject). So I'm not going to lecture you on how you should or shouldn't plan. I know you will be successful no matter how much or little planning you think you are doing in advance.

Instead, I'm going to offer a technique for getting inside the characters' heads that I found very successfull in both of my last two outings. It's called a Johari Window and you can read about it in my original post on this back in October of '05. But here are some highlights that I think might be helpful.

Set up a grid with one character on the side and one across the top, let's say your detective and your perp. Here's a sample of what that would look like:

a Johari Window applied to a detective story

Now, in any given circumstance, you can take your two main characters and balance them out against this window. The unfolding story usually takes place in the "hidden" quadrant that is what is unknown to both of them. I used this two years ago to go through the five main events in my story and plot the two main characters against this. What did they both know, what did one know that the other didn't, and what did neither of them know?

What I find even more helpful, especially when you are thinking of planting red herrings for the mystery (which, indeed, often comes long after the fact), is that you can treat your relationship with the reader in the same way and work with the reader to solve the question. Put yourself across the side as the author and the reader across the top. At any given time in the story, you should be able to show what is known to both of you (you already wrote it), what is known to you that the reader doesn't know (you've got it plotted out), what is known to the reader that you don't know (the reader brings her own assumptions and deduction to the story. The reader may have figured out who did it in the first chapter, but still be reading because they don't know when the detective will discover it), and finally what neither you nor your reader know yet. It's that last "hidden" quadrant that contains the real mystery for your story. It enables you to keep developing and discovering things as you write the story.

I'm going to follow this up with the next of my mystery writing lessons "How to interview a suspect." BTW, you can find more basic information about Johari Windows at Noogenesis.


Wayzgoose said...

I'm going to add this comment about using the window for two characters and multiple scenes. When you have two consecutive scenes and you plot what is known and unknown in each, then you have a road map for what you have to do between the scenes. You have to get your characters from the state in the first window to the state in the second window. How are you going to do it? That is the essence of what you will write next.