Today, I’m still dwelling on Character Development. One area that comes up from time to time is choosing and developing a POV – see here. Most people choose between the First Person and the Third Person POV, but there are others and with nuances between them. Some of Marguerite Duras’ texts, for instance, worked beautifully in Second Person POV – where the writing works as if the narrator is speaking to somebody else. And even in Third Person, the narrator can be omniscient, knowing everything that’s going on, or just follow closely the thinking, knowledge, and actions of the characters. For me, as I said here, the main reason to choose one POV or the other is most of the time what I want to show and what I want to conceal – and how it will work for the story. Blind Spots are a major tool for a writer and the better we can manage them the better we can create suspense, surprise, and excitement within the story. Having studied the field of organizational behavior and team dynamics, I came across a couple of interesting concepts that actually help me develop and manage Blind Spots in my writings. So let me speak a bit about them.
One model I learned a long time ago is a table made up by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham called the ‘Johari Window’ Model. The concept works like this (please see picture): there are four types of things in your life – 1) The Arena or Public Area – Things that you know about yourself and which others also know (like the color of your hair); 2) Hidden Area or Façade – Things that you know about yourself but which the others do not know (like the dream you had last night, or a secret of some kind); 3) The Unknown – Things you don’t know about yourself but which the others also don’t know (like the dreams you don’t remember); 4) Blind spots – Things the others know about you but which you don’t, you are unaware of (like the way you blink every time you talk about the girl next door).
Now, try to apply this to your character. The character is ‘you’ and the others are ‘the readers’. Imagine you are applying this to a First Person POV: 1) things that are in the Arena are easy to talk about and to think about and to act upon – the characters know about it, the audience knows about it, it’s easy; 2) things that are in the Hidden Area can be talked about, but maybe the character will also keep them from the audience for a while – but you have to have a good reason for that – an advice: foreshadow it, make it known there is a secret somewhere or give clues to the facts hidden, build the revelation up; 3) Things that are Unknown are unreachable when you’re in First Person POV, you just can’t talk about them or you will have to make up a device to do that – like a flashforward to a moment when the narrator finds out about those things and they become Public. If your story needs to show a lot of things that are in the unknown area, you might want to opt for a Third Person POV – that will allow you to control better the flow of information. For instance: in a theater of war you want to show to the reader, constantly, the strategy and the roll-out of the general’s plans – but you want to experience the war through a private’s eyes on the battlefield – you might want to use Third Person POV, or multiple First Person POV (the private on one chapter, the general on the other, for instance), or you might work with flashforwards and flashbacks and have the private years later in his retirement home explaining the general’s plans. But always keep in mind that what you want to show and what you don’t want to show is a major foundation of POV selection and development – and can greatly influence your style and the story itself.
But the real fun comes up when you think about 4) the Blind Spots. Blind Spots are things that others (readers) may know but you (the character) don’t. I love to work on these things because it’s a lot of fun to imply this or that without the characters actually realizing it. For instance, you know when you pick up that two characters are in love with each other but the characters themselves don’t know it yet? This may be easy to show in Third Person, but it’s a lot more fun to create in First Person. I did the same thing a couple of times with leadership, for example, in THE DARK SEA WAR CHRONICLES – the MC didn’t know he was becoming respected by his crew for all he was able to do and say, but we could slowly see it in the actions of his team. Also, the MC was constantly annoyed by another character, but we could see they were becoming good friends.
You can also use Blind Spots to frame the whole story. Remember Cameron’s TITANIC? The whole first 20 minutes were a presentation of the way the ship would crash and sink – so when we followed the story of Rose and Jack, we knew what would be happening even though they didn’t, which made us suffer for them as we saw them fall in love. Using Blind Spots in clever and sophisticated ways will make your characters and your stories deeper and more interesting to the reader. It’s, of course, easier to do that in Third Person – by for example interweaving plotlines, as I explained here, so that you follow one character and then another which gives you more information of what is going on. In THE DARK SEA WAR CHRONICLES I actually do it by intertwining two different POV’s – I have Episodes narrated in First Person and Interludes narrated in Third Person – exactly to create Blind Spots and/or to show information the MC would never learn.
There several types of Blind Spots. Consultant Barry Oshry developed a view of organizations and systems where he described several kinds of Systems Blindness – and it’s fun to use them in the context of plotting and character development. A) Spacial Blindness – You are able to see what is happening in one space but blind to what happens in another space. B) Temporal Blindness – you can see what happens in the present, for instance, but you cannot grasp what happened in the past or the future. C) Relational Blindness – you are unable to understand the whole aspects of the relationship between two or more people. D) Process Blindness – you cannot see or understand the whole parts of one process, only a few – see for instance in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN the way the Rangers didn’t understand how/why they had been sent to find one man in the middle of the war; and the general staff seemed not to grasp what they were asking of the Rangers. If you can play with these types of blindness you can create a wide range of Blind Spots you can use at your pleasure.
Remember, Blind Spots are a very useful and entertaining tool. Learn how to create them and use them and your writing will improve exponentially. See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.