Creating In-Depth Characters

By Rhonda Strehlow

Author Rhonda Strehlow

I recently discovered a folder from my life as an adult educator. It included a tool created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, the JoHari Window.  It’s a feedback model used to gather information in such areas as feelings, experiences, fears, knowledge, drivers, skills, hidden agendas, vulnerabilities, motivation, attitude, etc.

As a writer, I see it as a tool to develop our characters.

The concept is that all of us live in four arenas. The arenas are different sizes for each person. Some people have a large Public arena. Others have a large Mask arena. By completing each arena for our characters, we make them more real.

The Public Arena.
What is consciously shared with others. Things that are acknowledged and others see i.e. attitudes, behaviors, values.
The Blind Spot Unknown to the character but seen by others i.e. nervous habits, avoiding eye contact, keeping a ‘safe’ distance.
The Mask Secrets. Things deliberately kept
hidden or concealed from others i.e. things that
are embarrassing, irrational fears, things that scarred our character.
Potential What ‘could be’ if the time is right. Dreams, feelings, inklings that open up our character to possibilities.

Using my protagonist as an example, these are the traits/characteristics I will continue to explore and develop:

Public Arena: auctioneer, college educated, owns her own home, outwardly successful…

Blind Spot: shy, seen as arrogant, doesn’t allow others to get close, always protecting herself, sees herself through the eyes of abusive parents…

Mask: poor, went to college on a scholarship, father is in prison, mother abandoned her, she feels unworthy of her lawyer partner…

Potential: Will she marry her long-time partner and change her arc, or will she leave? Will she buy the auction barn? Will she lose her business? Will she change careers? Will she return to college?

Try putting a few of your characters through the four quadrants. Do you see ways to integrate their strengths and weaknesses into your story to develop robust, three-dimensional characters?