The other night at the CSFG novel-writing group, El Presidente David Dufty led a discussion on making use of Campbellian and Jungian character archetypes and other advice on character from various literary greats. One thing he’d found in the course of his internet research adventures was a neat character knowledge tool that helps you quickly map what a given character knows and doesn’t know about themselves and what other characters do and don’t know about them.
I believe the original may be somewhere on one of the (many, many) Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) websites – will post a link if I find out which – [UPDATE] The reference to the original tool was found at SCBWI Southeast Scotland (thanks Dave!). It’s a cognitive psychology tool called the “Johari Window” and apparently its application to fictional characters comes from this book by Roz Morris, but my immediate thought (out loud, because I have no internal monologue) was, “That’s Donald Rumsfeld’s knowns and unknowns!”
For those who weren’t paying attention at the time, Rumsfeld’s much-derided quote comes from a 2002 media briefing about the Iraq War/the War on Terror (noting the conflation of the two) as follows:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we know we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
According to my rudimentary research on Wikipedia, celebrity Marxist Slavoj Žižek added the missing fourth category: unknown knowns – the things which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know.
My second thought was that the usefulness of this kind of tool in fiction writing is waaaaaaay broader than which of a character’s traits are known to themselves and others. You can use it to map what they know about any aspect of the story (themselves, another character, a particular plot thread, their world, etc).