Good morning and welcome to Chaos Theory of Writing! Today, our dear friend Laurie Schnebly Campbell joins us to discuss the hero’s arc via the personality ladder. Laurie has a lot of ground to cover, so I’m going to “button it” and hand the class over to the professional. BUT first, I want to mention that Laurie’s generously giving away one free registration to her personality ladder class. All you have to do is leave a comment!
Laurie, welcome back to RU!
DAYS OF THE WEEK, DWARVES AND STAGES OF CHARACTER
There’s something magical about seven.
What, yet ANOTHER way of charting our hero’s progress through the plot and character arc of a book?
Haven’t we got enough of those already? The 36 basic plots. The nine personality types. The four quarters of a synopsis. The 12 stages along the hero’s journey. The seven habits of highly —
— Oops, we’re back to seven.
There’s just something ABOUT that number! In fact, maybe that’s why the personality ladder has seven steps.
In real life, of course, we’re all climbing ladders all the time. From infancy to childhood; from childhood to adulthood; from irresponsible student to responsible worker; from carefree party-goer to committed spouse…life is full of ladders.
But the ladder our book characters climb isn’t a lifelong one — it lasts only from Chapter One through The End. Maybe that’s a five-day period of thrilling adventure; maybe it’s a two-year saga of blooming love…but regardless of length, it’s a ladder they climb from bottom to top during the course of the book.
We know they start at the bottom because, when the book begins, they haven’t yet needed to face the big challenge they’ll face by the end. They’ve probably had their share of struggle and growth and change during the backstory, before Chapter One ever started, but as we open the book they’re only beginning the journey that’ll occupy the next 250 (or however-many) pages.
During that journey, we want our characters to face something that’ll take some WORK for them to rise above.
And no matter what they face on an exterior level — a bank robbery, a pirate raid, being jilted at the altar — the biggest challenge is going to be interior. That’s where the real excitement takes place — not in how they handle the bank robbery (well, unless you’re writing a police procedural) but in how they grow & learn & change in order to become a stronger and better person by the end of the book.
So that’s why we care about the seven steps along the personality ladder.
Of course, not every character MAKES it all the way to the top. Villains, especially, get stuck on the fifth step…which is why they’re villains.
And even with those characters who go through all seven stages, some have a more dramatic climb than others. Have you noticed that in books of your own, or books by other writers?
Not every character achieves the same amount of triumphant growth from beginning to end.
Which is okay. Even in a romance, where we want the hero & heroine to be well matched, one might go through a whole lot more turmoil and challenge than the other.
EVERY character, main and supporting, has their own ladder to climb. Some of them, like the wise mentor or grandparents, have completed their climb before the book ever begins — their only job now is to offer sage advice.
Others reach the top of one ladder in THIS book, but we know that the next book in the series will have them climbing a whole new (and equally thrilling) ladder.
Some struggle with every stage of the journey, some soar through the first five steps and then get flummoxed by the sixth, and some proceed so steadily we don’t immediately realize what they’ve overcome along the way. All of those people can be fabulous characters, each climbing their own personality ladder.
Which is the topic of my August class, and which is what I’d like YOUR thoughts on.
In fact, I’d like to quote you in the class — because it turns out people love quotes from real-life readers and writers! — so be sure and let me know if that’s NOT okay.
My question for you: which character in your current book (the one you’re reading or writing) is going through the most dramatic journey? And do you like that character better than the rest?
No right or wrong answer…I’m just interested in characters going through those steps on their personality ladder. So I’d love to know who stands out in your mind when you think of people making a climb!
Laurie, with free registration to “His Personality Ladder” at
for someone who sends a comment (I’ll do a random-number drawing tomorrow)
* * *
RU Crew, now it’s your turn. Laurie will stop by to answer your questions.
Be sure to stop back on Monday for our spotlight on the medical romance sub-genre. Author Janice Lynn and Harlequin Mills & Boon Assistant Editor Lucy Gilmour will be here to share their thoughts.
Laurie Schnebly Campbell (http://www.BookLaurie.com) created the Personality Ladder workshop after people from her psychology, fatal flaws and enneagrams classes requested more information on using ALL those techniques for building great characters. She’s introducing this expanded course in August at WriterUniv.com, and looking forward to meeting some great new heroes…as well as some she’s enjoyed before!
- Extra Credit! Winner of Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s Giveaway!
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for June 21-25: Haley Hughes, Laurie London, Debra Holland & Laurie Schnebly
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for March 22-26: Roxanne St. Claire, Jill Marsal, Cat Lindler & Laurie Schnebly
- How Fatal Should Flaws Be? Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 23-27, 2010: Edie Ramer, Laurie London, Tawny Weber & Laurie Schnebly Campbell