Saturday, February 6, 2010

Laurie Schnebly Campbell Writes Characters By Their Type

Welcome Laurie Schnebly Campbell, romance author who used the enneagram to teach writers about character.

AMBER: Tell me how you became interested in using the enneagram for  character development?

LSC: My mother found a really simple book about enneagrams, complete with cartoon illustrations, and the minute I saw it I loved the idea of applying those personality types to characters in my books. There's just so much built-in conflict when you put any two types (even the same kind) together, and neither person has to be a jerk -- it works just as well when they're genuinely good people.

The idea is that when we're under stress, which of course our book characters ARE because otherwise there wouldn't be any story, we all tend to show the darker side of our usual strength. Each type has wonderful strengths, but those can also cause problems when they're taken to someone carefree becoming irresponsible, or someone responsible becoming a perfectionist.

AMBER: As a long time fan of the enneagram, I’ve wanted to use the system to write a novel. Of course, I would use all the types and it would make perfect sense. Easier said than done. When is a good time to stand back, look at your characters, and do a personality analysis (if they let you)?

LSC: I'm always amazed at how many successful methods there are for developing characters. Some writers start with an archetype in mind and craft a plot to challenge that character; others prefer watching the plot unfold and THEN deciding what the characters will be like. Either way can work beautifully, and so can all the other ways in between.

For anyone who's not sure WHAT works best, my recommendation is: decide which comes more easily to you. Are you better at coming up with plots, or better at crafting characters? Then, whichever you're better at, do the other step first.

Because if plotting is tougher and you start with that, you KNOW you can create fabulous characters to fit any plot you dream up. And if you have a tough time building personalities, do that first (hint: enneagrams will help!) because once that's done you can always create a compelling plot for whatever people you come up with.

AMBER: I also notice that you teach a workshop entitled “Creating Your  Hero’s Fatal Flaw.” As a counseling therapist and romance writer, do you have tips for  making your hero and heroine flawed, but not too crazy for a reader  to care about?
LSC: Even though the term "fatal flaw" sounds so much more dramatic than "flaw that occasionally causes trouble," flaws don't have to be anything CLOSE to crazy! We're all flawed in minor ways, and those ways are enough to create drama and turmoil in our lives.

Of course, if novelists want to write a psychotic killer or something equally crazy, they can just pick one of those minor flaws and take it to extremes. In fact, the class gets into how each of the nine types could become a villain -- it's all about exaggerating the weakness that goes along with each type's strength.

But keep in mind, the strength and weakness are always two sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other...all you can do is use that trait for whatever results you want.

AMBER: Anything else you'd like to add?
LSC:  Just in case anyone isn't familiar with enneagrams, here's the short version: we all have some of EACH type within us, but we also have one main type. (Some people recognize theirs immediately; others can see too many possibilities to decide right away.)

  •     Type One, the Perfectionist, is a classic white-hat-never-black-hat who LIVES for Truth-Justice-Right. They hate mistakes; as perfectionists they get angry when they (or anyone else) doesn’t live up to their high standards. Trivia: they’re hardly EVER overweight, because that would be Wrong!

  •     Two, the Nurturer loves to be needed; they’re constantly giving. Great helpers who’ll go out of their way to care for others, and they take pride in being needed. If they go overboard, it’s a case of them forcing chicken soup down your throat because they identify themselves as Givers.

  •     Three, the Achiever, is the golden boy or golden girl who succeeds at whatever they do and always looks fabulous. Even if they’re cleaning the garage, their hair is ARTFULLY messy! But they can get so wrapped up in the fabulous image, they might indulge in deception to keep it going.

  •    Four, the Romantic, isn't afraid of feelings; they love big emotions...drama, tragedy, falling in love. They have glorious visions for how life should be, “scripting” what they hope for. If everyday life seems too ordinary, they fall into envy -- not of others, but of their perfect dream.

  •     Five, the Observer, isn't interested in emotions, except academically -- they're all about thoughts, analysis, study. They keep to themselves, preferring comprehension over participation, and while they don't care much about material goods, they're greedy for personal time-space-privacy.

  •     Six, the Skeptic, is constantly alert to risk (for themselves and their loved ones). Because of this fear, they're very aware of the rules and determined to always keep them...OR to always break them. Either way, they're deeply loyal and determined to keep their team safe, no matter what.

  •     Seven, the Adventurer, is enthusiastic about everything and everybody, and they want to enjoy every possible new the point where they might be accused of gluttony. They prefer not to commit to just ONE of anything -- whether a favorite restaurant, a job, or even a mate.

  •    Eight, the Leader, is very self-confident and accustomed to being in charge, running the show...always protecting that vulnerable core. Their lust for power can create trouble if someone else expects to share decision-making, but it also makes them exceptionally good at getting things done.

  •     Nine, the Peacemaker, likes to avoid conflict, avoid taking sides...even choosing chocolate or vanilla. They’re likable because they can appreciate everyone's viewpoint, and rarely express their own. Instead they kick back with whatever's comfortable...sometimes to the point of sloth.

  • See how each strength has a corresponding weakness? That's likely to come out under stress, which happens in EVERY book. And that's only the beginning!

    AMBER:  So, can you tell I'm a FIVE, observing and interviewing (and hiding out and writing), We also love information so I guess my career as a librarian also worked. Now, back to you. Tell me about your books.
    LSC: Well, the one that got me here is called Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams   and...hmm, I'll bet you can guess what it's about. Then there's half a dozen romance novels written for Silhouette Special Edition
    AMBER: What are you writing now?
    LSC: Next will be a book on enneagrams in relationships, and it's funny how that idea started. When the book for writers came out, one of my few non-writing friends -- a guy I went through counseling school with, who's now in private practice -- read it and said "gosh, I could use this for couples counseling."

    I'd never even thought of the enneagram types in that context, but the minute he said that it made perfect sense. (My parents, who've been married 50-some years, joke that they never really UNDERSTOOD each other until they learned about enneagrams.) So that's the next book...but I'm only a few chapters into it, and I hate to take time away from teaching to get that done!

    AMBER: I agree with your parents. I didn't understand MY parents until I studied the enneagram. I think I understand the concept of personalities evolving for the better as we age (we hope). S Can an evolved character can have all the wonderful qualities of each type? And can a completely depraved character have all the worst?
    LSC: Actually I don't think either one is possible, because there are so MANY wonderful (and worst) qualities for every type. But, sure, in theory someone could show a whole lot of good (or bad) traits of their type.

    AMBER: What type was your great-grandmother Sedona Schnebly (for whom Sedona, Arizona was named)?

    LSC: I wish I'd met her so I could say for sure -- she died shortly before I was born. (Although I've gotta admit that if I'd met her when I was six months old, it probably wouldn't have made any difference.)
    Still, from everything I've heard about her, I'd guess she was a One. Everyone who knew her talked about how conscientious she was in terms of doing her duty. She was very involved in the local church, and people who rhapsodize today about the Sedona vortexes would leave her shaking her head in disapproval because she wouldn't hold with that sort of thing. But when she was dying, she asked her husband to go deliver a get-well card to an ailing neighbor. That kind of thoughtful, attentive care is typical of a Perfectionist who's dedicated to always doing the right thing.

    Laurie used to think there was nothing more fun than reading, until she discovered writing. Then, after winning "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, she discovered something even MORE fun -- teaching other writers. She started with classes on synopsis-writing, which she'd always thought was easy because of her background writing ads. Psychology was next, because of her background in counseling. And when she discovered the nine enneagram types, she found those so useful that she wrote a book for people who want believable characters with built-in fatal (or not so fatal) flaws.

    During weekdays, she writes and produces videos, brochures and commercials (some of which feature her voice) for a Phoenix advertising agency. For several years she would turn off her computer every day at five o'clock, wait thirty seconds, turn it on again and start writing romance.

    to learn more about her books and workshops
    And don't miss a peek at 
    showing how Laurie develops a story.


    1. Hi, Laurie! I'm still muttering about the revelations I saw when you "doctored" my synopsis. Oh the things we just can't see without a nice nudge. :) I can't tell what I am above. I fall between the perfectionst, observer, and leader. My husband of 16 years would agree with that... So shoot me. :)

      Great post. Thanks for having Laurie over, Amber.

    2. LAURIE--okay, I'm a skeptic, at least by this definition. I wouldn't have painted a picture of myself in this manner--but there it is--I'm number Six. Very intriguing post--thank you, Amber and Laurie. Celia

    3. Laurie and Amber,
      I bought 2 enneagram books years ago written by Baron and Wagele. I found them so fascinating that I immediately categorized my entire family. I'm a 5, married to an 8, with daughters who are 4 and 7. What a motley crew! But it all made sense after I saw how the character types fit together. BTW, I use this in my writing too.

    4. Great interview, Laurie! And we love Sedona! So beautiful there. I'm a 1,5 & 6 with a smattering of 4 & 7. Just call me Sybil! Maybe that's why I have so many darn characters in my head all the time. :)

    5. Dana -The most evolved people are a balance with all numbers.
      I think the enneagram goes back to the Sufis. I guess human personalities haven't changed much.
      Amber (5 married to a triple Libra 9)

    6. Amber, what an interesting interview.

      Laurie, your enneagrams are very interesting.

      My sister is definitely a 1 and 2, my husband is 6 and 8, and I'm (oh no) a 9 with maybe some others thrown in. lol

    7. Wow, fun catching up with all the posts! And I'm impressed with everybody who's already got a pretty good idea of their type -- or those of their loved ones, which is all kinds of fun. :)

      Laurie, yet ANOTHER 5 (wondering if more 5s hang out on enneagram blogspots...?)

    8. Hi Laurie, it's so interesting how all those types interact, intersect and that we all have our over-riding or more dominant type but often have a companion or underlying type as well. Aren't people just fascinating? Thanks for this, I can't wait to buy your book! Take care,
      Barb Han

    9. I am a four! I did the test. What I would love to see is a book on how the ennegrams interact for writing. You are an amazing teacher. Thanks - Kim

    10. Barb, you're right about how fascinating people are -- I don't think anyone appreciates that better than writers!

      And Kim, you're talking about my NEXT book, which goes into detail on every possible pairing (One-One, One-Two, etc)...but I keep getting sidetracked by fun classes. :)

    11. Hi Laurie -
      I have Myers-Briggs info and found Enneagram books on my bookshelf. Guess I'll be doing more reading. But I think I'll start with your book since it pertains to writing and I need it :)
      I'm enjoying your class, now and look forward to the next one.

    12. Great interview. I'll be reading your book next. I am learning so much in your workshop at WritersUniv. and I think this will be the next step in adding a depth of reality to my characters.

      Jen B.

    13. Hi Laurie,

      Great interview! Ever since taking your online courses on Enneagrams, I have been using them to create characters, understand their motivations and identify good conflicts for them. Part of the pre-work I do on story ideas is going over your handout on fatal flaws and reminding myself what I need to stay focused regarding the character as I plot the story (and write it!)

      I cannot wait for you to publish the 'couples' book. Yippee!

      Karen Saxon :-D

    14. Wow, cool to hear from people who love this kind of thiking -- it'd be such fun if everyone in the world knew all the character types!

      Sometimes, chatting with my mom or sister or a friend who's familiar with enneagrams, we'll say "what you'd EXPECT from a___" or "that was more of a ___ attitude," and it's a kick being able to use that kind of shorthand.

      So hurray for everybody else who enjoys that too!

    15. Great post, Laurie! I learn something new from you every time I tune in!