What Do Your Characters Really Know?
The art of Shakespeare lies in the use of miscommunication between characters. The tragedy between Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, Hamlet and Ophelia all depend on characters communicating undependably.
In other words, a lot of bad assumptions and keeping secrets.
The trend of he-doesn’t-know-this and she-doesn’t-know-that continues in storytelling today. It’s a way of building suspense for and trust with the audience.
But what if your characters don’t know what you want them to know?
It’s frustrating during the writing process when your characters who should be communicating effectively are lost in their own conversation. And if the characters are lost, your readers will be lost even more.
It’s enough to make you slam your pen and stop writing. And we can’t let that happen.
Meet the Johari Window.
This technique, created by psychologists, was designed to guide our understanding of the relationships between the self and others based on known and unknown facts.
So how does this apply to your writing?
Well, characters are people. And, like people in our daily lives, characters interact with those around them as well as themselves. And interactions are all based on what your characters know—and don’t know.
Communication between characters can only be effective if you recognize the known facts each character brings to the conversation.
Character relationships can sometimes be built on the lack of information. But you must recognize that the information is not known and your audience must understand that the information is not known.
So, I challenge you to evaluate the relationship between two characters in your writing. Define the specific moment in the story before you make a list of the facts or thoughts that fall in the following four quadrant categories:
Open Area / Arena: What Character A and Character B both know.
Hidden / Façade: What Character A knows but Character B doesn’t know.
Blind Spot: What Character A doesn’t know but Character B knows.
Unknown: What Character A and Character B don’t know.
Do you characters know less about each other than you expected? Do they know more than you anticipated? How do the facts or thoughts known by each character affect how they interact with each other, themselves and others?
Share your discovery below.
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