Three Scales of Character

Three scales of characterSome of the takeaways from Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 lectures include his three scales of character.

Sanderson’s three scales of character are:

  • Likability
  • Proactivity
  • Competence



Snow White is likeable from the start and remains so all the way through. It’s easy to identify with her struggle. Ebenezer Scrooge begins as a hate figure and wins us over through his transformation.


Proactivity is about making decisions and taking action. Sanderson’s favourite example is from Star Wars where only Leia is proactive from the get-go. Everyone else from Luke, Han and even Obi Wan has to be booted into action by the events she sets in motion.


Competence is another typical component of the Hero’s Journey. Luke is a farm boy at the beginning, Jedi padewan by the end. Han Solo isn’t especially competent, except in his own mind he thinks he is. This allows the character to be both dashing, swashbuckling hero and comic foil at the same time.

Moving the Scales

Sanderson then asks us to consider where our characters sit on these scales:
– at beginning
– in the middle
– by the end

Leia is high on all three from the start and stays that way.

Luke begins high on likeability, low on proactivity and competence, rising steadily in both to the end.

Han is the likable rogue of middling competence and low proactivity. His personal character arc changes late in Act Three with the proactive decision to go help Luke.

As a set of prompts, these ‘scales’ of character are very easy and valuable to apply.

CODA: Here’s a question for you: where would you rank on Sanderson’s Three Scales of Character? And how have you changed from the beginning to the current point in your story?

2 thoughts on “Three Scales of Character”

  1. Pingback: Hypno-potter-mouse

  2. This is genius. If you map the three at the beginning and end you can plan for how they change in the course of the story. Too often it’s a big leap in proactivity and competence about 10 pages from the end with nothing to drive the change.

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