Posted On June 25, 2010 by Print This Post

CTW: His Personality Ladder by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

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!


There’s something magical about seven.

Seven wonders of the world. Sailing the seven seas. Seven deadly sins. The seventh-inning stretch. Seventh heaven. The seven stages of man. And the seven steps on the personality ladder.

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’s Bio:

Laurie Schnebly Campbell ( 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, and looking forward to meeting some great new heroes…as well as some she’s enjoyed before!

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41 Responses to “CTW: His Personality Ladder by Laurie Schnebly Campbell”

  1. I took this class from Laurie last year and my manuscript was pretty new. It helped me get a handle on who my characters were and what they needed to learn by the end of the book.

    Finally, I’m in the revision phase and I’m very pleased with the character arc of both main characters. As for who had the most to learn, I’d say it’s equal between them. They both had serious issues to overcome before they could get their HEA. Thank goodness they did!

    Thanks Laurie.

    Posted by Angie | June 25, 2010, 2:52 am
  2. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for hanging out with us again at RU. I’m so curious about those steps now!!

    I’m in the beginning stages of my manuscript, but I think the heroine will go through the most dramatic journey. She has the most to lose–her daughter.


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | June 25, 2010, 5:22 am
  3. morning Laurie!!!

    That sounds like a fabulous class! There’s a good chance you’ll see me there! =)

    In the book I’m writing now, my hero has the most dramatic change. He’ll go from surly, overbearing workaholic who never smiles to a surly, overbearing workaholic who not only smiles, but even laughs. Out loud. =)…lol..His journey is huge, from an emotional freeze, to a caring man. Looking forward to meeting him at the end of the book!

    Thanks for posting with us today! Great having you here as always!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 25, 2010, 8:31 am
  4. Angie, what fun to see you here — and I mean that literally; seeing your picture is such a kick! You know how you always get this image of people from reading their emails? With you I was almost exactly on target, except I pictured your hair more curly…gotta change that now.

    (Er, that would be ME making the change, not you!)

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 9:00 am
  5. Tracey, I’m already feeling for your heroine — what an awful situation, being at risk of losing her daughter.

    Her EXTERNAL journey is gonna be horrendous, and who knows whether her internal will match up to that? Gonna be all kinds of excitement (and I hope a happy ending) coming up!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 9:01 am
  6. Carrie, I’ve enjoyed watching the hints of this hero’s transformation — especially the sightseeing. So if I get to see him make it through all seven stages, that’ll be even MORE fun…I’ve got my fingers crossed!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 9:03 am
  7. Hi Laurie,

    Great post. I took the class about a year ago, and it really helped me with my hero. If I can squeeze it into my schedule I think I’ll take the course in August. A refresher is always good, and I love how you make us think about our characters.

    Nancy writing as Marie Tuhart

    Posted by Nancy Cochran | June 25, 2010, 9:12 am
  8. Nancy, what a great description — “make us think about our characters” really SAYS it!

    Sure, it’s useful to have some tools like the seven stages…but without the author doing some thinking, the tools just sit there. Whereas, when you put ’em to work the way you did, you wind up with new book contracts (and I sure hope you’re still celebrating!)

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 9:26 am
  9. Hi Laurie,

    You’ve made me very curious about the seven steps – particularly step five as it relates to the villain.

    In my current WIP it’s the hero who changes the most, going from demon to nice guy. I foresee a precariously steep ladder 😀


    Posted by Luanna | June 25, 2010, 9:29 am
  10. I’ve taken an all day workshop with Laurie that touched on the personality ladder, and I would highly recommend this class.

    In my current ms, it’s my hero who has the most dramatic journey of healing and self discovery. He frequently makes me cry when I’m writing him. I want to wrap him in a big fuzzy blankey and make him cocoa.

    Posted by Anna C. Bowling | June 25, 2010, 9:40 am
  11. A “Laurie class” I haven’t taken! Hmmm. This sounds excellent.

    My quietest character (so far) is my most interesting and least disruptive (to the plot) and he definitely is my favorite. His presence literally creates the plot, and he definitely affects his fellow characters. But he needs to be way sharper, edgier–shocking???? I made him too nice! SO I’ve been trying to shake him up, playing the “what if this happened instead” game. Like “What if he’s like this because THIS happened to him before the book started?” “What makes him REALLY angry?” Hmmm. With all the work I’ve done (motivation, etc.) I thought I knew him well, but he’s been holding out on me. Characters withholding secrets from their creator–what’s that all about??? 🙂

    Thanks for a great positing, Laurie… and offering another enticing class!

    Posted by Nancy Kay Bowden | June 25, 2010, 9:44 am
  12. Laurie –

    My hero almost always ends up making the biggest/longest/hardest (oops – that all sounds a tad risque!) journey. I have a MUCH harder time formulated my heroine. What do you think Freud would say about that??

    Thanks for being at RU – it’s always a pleasure to have you with us. Now I’ve got to check out this class!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | June 25, 2010, 10:08 am
  13. Lu, you’re right about a steep ladder as your hero goes from demon to nice guy — that’s gonna be intriguing!

    And even with such a massive climb, he’ll go through the same steps as a hero who transforms just a little, like from Chronnically Late to Relatively Punctual.

    It’s all just a question of how big a journey you want to make it…because they can always repeat some of the steps along the way, same as we do in real life!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 10:11 am
  14. Anna, I’m right there with you on wishing for the blanket and cocoa — if ever a hero deserved that kind of treatment, it’s him.

    But he’d be suspicious of it, right? Hmm…how to convince him “it’s okay, this author really IS on your side?”

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 10:14 am
  15. You know it’s interesting, but my POV character actually changes less than my hero. I her case she’s got the inner strength to do what’s necessary all along, she just has to admit/realize it. The hero on the other hand, changes much more dramatically. When he first meets the heroine he’s talented and handsome, but is also arrogant, chauvanistic and believes that nothing matters more than being everyone’s ideal.

    The first big shift in his perspective comes when he realizes that just because a woman is as good at something at he is, doesn’t mean he’s less of a man.

    The second is that he’s not bound by fate like he’s always believed. He was convinced he was doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps as a philandering cad, and that real love was beyond his capability. This changes when he falls in love with the heroine because, not only can he really love someone, but she makes him see that faithfulness is a choice, and the crap his father fed him about being destined to roam is no more than an excuse for misbehavior.

    The third and most profound realization is that some things are more important than status. He enjoys being the golden boy, following the rules and receiving the accolades. His love for the heroine though, eventually makes him face the fact that doing the right thing is more important than being someone’s idea of perfection.

    Posted by Heather Jackson | June 25, 2010, 10:24 am
  16. Nancy, isn’t it annoying when characters try to hold out on their creator? Talk about ungrateful NERVE!

    But what’s cool is that this guy HAS something to hold back…which is gonna make him all the more fascinating. The only caveat is that if you need him to shape up fast, you might want to give him a deadline: “Look, either you reveal yourself to me by July 3 or you’re fired; I’ll put some new character in your place.”

    That way you’re covered — either you can put someone more cooperative in that same role, or he’ll shape up. Here’s hoping he shapes up!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 10:34 am
  17. Kelsey, you can pick your favorite of two possible Freudian interpretations as to why it’s easier formulating heroes than heroines:

    * Your own emotional life is so comfortable that there’s nothing to work on regarding women’s issues, so your creative energy focuses on the men.

    * You have such an exciting emotional life that there’s no room for another woman’s issues in there, so you devote more time and attention to the man.

    I remember when my sister read my third manuscript (before I sold any) she said she didn’t much like ANY of my heroines. And I realized I’d been deliberately making them not very likable, because I didn’t want the hero to love THAT woman more than he loved me!

    Amazing the things we get done while writing, isn’t it?

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 10:40 am
  18. Hi Laurie!

    Your class, His Personality Ladder, has helped me with several of my Super Agent books, including the latest which releases next month, Proof of Life. The heroine of that story gave me the most trouble…I couldn’t figure her out (and neither could my hero!) until I was halfway through the first draft and pulled out my notes from your class. Once I did that, I was able to understand her journey and how my hero’s journey interlaced with hers.

    My current wip is the fourth Super Agent book and my favorite character is my heroine. This round, I have her all figured out, but now need to walk my hero through His Personality Ladder to get a deeper understanding of his journey.

    Thank you, Laurie, for all your classes and your Enneagrams book. I use them for every story I write!

    Posted by Misty Evans | June 25, 2010, 11:45 am
  19. Hi – I’m with Nancy– a Laurie class I haven’t taken is very tempting. I’m juggling a couple of different Mss right now, in different stages of development. I think in all my Mss, though, the heroine changes more. In my current WIP, she needs to have total control over every aspect of her life, which includes limited her involvement with other people (she won’t let anyone get close) so falling for the hero makes some of that control slip and it’s bad for her

    Posted by Shannyn | June 25, 2010, 11:51 am
  20. Heather, I like how your hero evolves — and it actually makes sense that the POV heroine is who we see his evolution through, because it gives us even more of a stake in how he turns out. If we had her going through enormous changes at the same time, she wouldn’t be as good a narrator as she’s describing what we need to know about HIS journey!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 12:04 pm
  21. Misty, how cool to hear that I actually helped with another one of your SuperAgent books — those are always a treat!

    It’s like a kid hearing they got to help in Santa’s workshop…gotta love it. 😀

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 12:06 pm
  22. Shannyn, you’ve already got a GREAT head start on one of the homework assignments — you know what she needs to overcome, and what’s gonna happen when (at least at first) she can’t.

    But it’ll sure be fun to watch her going through all that turmoil along the way. (Which is easy for me to say since she’s not MY character…otherwise, it’d be tough!)

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 12:09 pm
  23. My writing has been interruprted by a few life events (talk about climbinb a ladder!) but now that I’ve resumed writing again, the first source/inspiration/insights I’ve turned to have been from Laurie’s classes. I’d love a refresher course on using the Personality Ladder – not only because Laurie makes its concepts and use so easy, but because it’s in every story, movie, real life drama too. But even better – in September I will get to meet Laurie in person ❗ when she presents a day long workshop for my home chapter, the Vancouver Island Chapter in Victoria, BC Canada. Oh… and to answer the question, while it’s my heroine that is going through the biggest change in my WIP, the hero learns a (huge) lesson too in understanding what real love is and why people are willing to sacrifice (their own life ) for it.

    Posted by Judy Stewart | June 25, 2010, 12:47 pm
  24. Judy, I can’t wait to meet you in person! One more reason I’m looking forward to visiting Victoria.

    And now I’ve gotta know more about why this hero discovers someone willing to sacrifice their life for love…sounds like a VERY juicy story. (“Juicy” is the word I got from my editor and still just love!)

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 1:56 pm
  25. “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?”

    I’m not sure if mine will be especially helpful, but you’re certainly welcome to quote it if you like.

    I’m working on a fantasy adventure rather than a romance, so I don’t really have a hero and heroine; I only have a single protagonist, the heroine. Her journey/ladder is mainly external, as she’s struggling to survive in a very strange place. Internally, she’ll be progressing from actively antisocial to someone who is at least tolerant of other people; but I’m not sure that’s a matter of character growth so much as the difference between feeling forced to interact with others at first, and having it be entirely her own option later on. She is, of course, my favorite character in the story… but that doesn’t mean I’ll be nice to her!

    The antagonist isn’t really a villain; he’s just a very authoritarian (and somewhat self-centered) fellow who’s trying to keep his group alive and fed in a harsh and unforgiving environment. He probably has a steeper ladder than the protagonist; interacting with the heroine is going to force him to realize that authority is not a guarantee of obedience. I wouldn’t say I like him, though.

    Posted by Michael Mock | June 25, 2010, 2:20 pm
  26. Hey, Laurie,

    I loved the very first BETA His Personality class and have used the ladder for all my character development since. I’m looking forward to the refresher…draw my number, draw my number. 😉

    My current WIP is set in the 1960s and my heroine is struggling to be a liberated woman and making some tough choices. She’s going through the most dramatic changes. Keeping the scenes paced to adequately show her growth is quite the challenge. The hero’s a Green Beret and he’s giving me fits too. Thank goodness I have your ladder to help!

    Now if they’d both quit refusing to do what I say, I’d be fine! That’s what I love about your approach of creating with the enneagrams. Gives me lots of room to let them grow and change in lots of different ways.

    Looking forward to the class even if you don’t draw my name!


    Posted by Judythe Morgan | June 25, 2010, 2:29 pm
  27. I’m dying to know what all the steps are on this letter. My heroes always give me fits – they rarely meet the alpha qualifications. This might really help me get them in shape. Great post.

    Posted by Carol Kilgore | June 25, 2010, 3:08 pm
  28. I like the idea that the simple act of not being able to climb the ladder can determine the kind of character you have, hero, villian, etc. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I hope I get to take the class in August. Maybe I’ll win it!

    Posted by Beth S | June 25, 2010, 4:56 pm
  29. Michael, good point about not necessarily liking people who are vital to the story — you’re right, just because we create them doesn’t mean we’re automatically gonna LIKE ’em.

    So if you wind up being nicer to the antagonist than the protagonist, I bet she’s going to ask if she can trade places!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 5:22 pm
  30. Judythe, how nice to hear you’ve continued using the ladder — that’s great; I’m glad it’s proven to be a useful tool. Along with, yep, the enneagrams…isn’t it amazing how many handy ways there are of figuring out what our characters need?

    And, boy, I’m curious about the journey for this 1960s heroine and the Green Beret!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 5:24 pm
  31. Carol, just because your heroes don’t meet the alpha qualifications doesn’t mean they aren’t worth keeping! A hero absolutely does NOT need to be an alpha to work.

    Of course, if you WANT him to be, that’s fine…but don’t think that’s the only way to create a man whom readers will love. They’ll love any hero who makes it up the ladder — and even a few who don’t!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 6:55 pm
  32. Beth, you could very well wind up as a winner…all it takes is being whatever number comes up at random-dot-org. Which is a very cool site that my engineering-student son discovered — nice to think engineers have some use in the writing world, huh?

    He’ll probably never read a single one of my books, but I love him anyway!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 6:58 pm
  33. In the book I’m revising, my hero and heroine both have definite character arcs, which is different from my first, now shelved, manuscript, where I focused so much on the heroine’s need for growth that I forgot until revisions about looking into the hero’s growth and motivations as much as I now feel I should have to make him immediately appeal to readers. My hero’s growth is most obvious–from trying to plan everything and control the outcome ahead of time, so that he appears most successful–to being himself, whether it looks great to others or not, because he can’t necessarily control everything ahead of time. The heroine’s arc is more about restoring her belief in her dreams: She has never stopped dreaming, only lost her confidence that her dreams are worthy of pursuing and can be trusted. Of the two, I don’t know who I like better. In the book I’m starting to write, I see my heroine’s need for growth the most right now, but I like my hero better, maybe because I understand my heroine’s aeneagram type less or like less how her personality works (she’s a Type e6 and not always the most honest person, although she think sshe has good reason): I think I need a lot more work there, both in terms of getting to know them and their motives and in terms of figuring out what growth he needs to do, because I’m sure he does need to grow, but I don’t yet know exactly how.

    Posted by Varina | June 25, 2010, 8:07 pm
  34. I forgot to mention before that I took the shorter version of His Personality Ladder last year, late in the first draft ofthe book I’m now revising. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, mainly doing short-terms brainstorming now and then, so I tend to resist long, complicated plotting tools. Writing for me is a journey of discovery. The Personality Ladder was loose and simple enough to help me make sure I was heading toward the finishing stretch with what I hoped would be a satisfying resolution for both hero and heroine.

    Posted by Varina | June 25, 2010, 8:16 pm
  35. Varina, I like your line about being “sure he does need to grow, but I don’t yet know exactly how” — that’s a great description of the Starting Process.

    You’re in the same place as HE is on the ladder right now, with no idea what lies ahead. Although you’ve got a considerable advantage, here, because he doesn’t even yet KNOW that he’ll need to grow & learn & change in order to achieve his happy ending. It’ll be fun watching that journey take shape!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 8:17 pm
  36. Hold it! Victoria? When? I’m in Vancouver, just a little ferry hop away…. tell me????

    Posted by kathy bremner | June 25, 2010, 10:16 pm
  37. My heroine has to give up a self induced state of memory loss and deal with a mission that is haunting her while my hero has to learn to step back and let her grow. I like her journey the most while I love watching him soften around the edges!

    Posted by kathy bremner | June 25, 2010, 10:22 pm
  38. Kathy, I see why you like the heroine’s journey best — she’s got more exciting stuff to go through. But watching the hero “soften around the edges” sounds very rewarding in a quieter sort of way…we can bet they’ll wind up as a great match.

    As for Victoria, that’ll be an all-day workshop on Saturday Sept. 25: details are at
    As a lifelong Arizonan, I envy you living in a place where people take ferryboats all the time!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 25, 2010, 11:58 pm
  39. Laurie and all,

    Thank you for the fantastic discussion! I’ve enjoyed reading about everyone’s character arcs.

    Be sure to join us again on August 27 when Laurie talks about Fatal Flaws. Until then, have a fantastic weekend!


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 26, 2010, 7:04 am
  40. Congratulations to Luanna, random-number 9, who wins free registration to the August yahoogroups class on His Personality Ladder!

    Luanna, contact me via my website and I’ll get your email address for the class…or if you’re busy in August, you can donate the prize to a friend or let me know to draw another number.

    And thanks to everybody who posted here — it’s always a treat to see glimpses of so many stories (and their writers)!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | June 26, 2010, 11:54 am
  41. *squee* Thank you!!! At last I’ll discover the mystery behind “rung #5”, hehe.


    Posted by Luanna | June 27, 2010, 8:34 am

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