Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Opposites Attract in Fiction Too. Sometimes.

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 13•12

Hippocrates -- when he thought about humors, it wasn't because he wanted to laugh.

In many creation myths, the gods made both genders of human from one item, such as a tree, a stalk of bamboo, or an egg. In most of these myths, men and women are soul mates – two halves of the same personality. In other words most cultures noticed that opposites attract.

The ancient Greeks were fascinated by these differences in personality. To the point that Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, developed the theory of temperament classifications. According to this theory, all people are ruled by their humors, or four different fluids in their bodies. These humors did everything from causing illnesses, to influencing the way a person behaved.

Although modern medicine has disproved the theory that illnesses are caused by an imbalance in the humors, some management training theories maintain that people can still be broadly classified as some blend of four differ temperaments. The exact blend of temperaments varies among each person, which makes each one individual. But generally people who fall into one of the four temperaments share certain personality traits in common.

A person’s temperament blend shows up in everything from their body language to their character quirks and their manner of dress.

If you’ve ever taken a management training class, then you’ve probably been introduced to some type of temperament training (the trainer may have broken you and your fellow classmates into an animal group, or a color group. J.K. Rowling used animals and colors when she sorted the four houses of Hogwarts by personality traits). In management, temperament training teaches others to play to their own strengths and to know what to expect out of others so that they get along more harmoniously.

Knowing what the temperaments are — and the behaviors for each temperament and temperament blend can also help you in your own writing. By knowing what kind of behaviors and actions that you want out of your characters, you can make them a unique blend of temperaments. This will help you to craft each character with realistic thoughts and body language that aligns with their actions. This can give your characters an extra layer of realism.

Many experienced writers may already do this just from their observation of human nature. Most of us know that introverts are usually deep thinkers and quiet people and that that entertainers tend to be extroverts with wide-open body language. The temperament blend theory is just one way to make your characterization one layer deeper.

For the sake of clarity, I will refer to the temperaments that Hippocrates identified, as opposed to some of the names that the various training seminars use.

Here are the primary temperaments:

Sanguines love drawing attention to themselves.

Sanguine — Hippocrates believed that sanguine people had an excess of blood in their bodies. Because of this, sanguines were said to be “hot blooded”. Sanguines are the social butterflies of the world. They are drawn into being performers of some type. In speculative fiction, sanguines are circus performers, bards and any other profession that would make them the center of attention. Sanguines wear loud colors, unusual patterns and may dress in themes (like a cowboy, or a peasant) so that they will draw attention to themselves (in a steampunk setting, your sanguine will be the lady who wears the wide brimmed hat with grapes, a bird cage with a stuffed canary and a ferret on it). Sanguines are also usually “fashionably late” to any situation.

Their body language is wide and expressive, and these types of characters have trouble keeping secrets, mostly due to never thinking while they speak. On the positive side, a sanguine makes friends easily and does well in any social situation. Ivy Hisslepenny of the Parasol Protectorate series is a good example of a sanguine character.

Choleric– in Greek times, choleric people were said to be filled with yellow bile. (The word for yellow was chole. This is also where conditions like colic and cholera get their names.) choleric temperaments are usually hard-driving, ambitious people. They are the types who get things done. However, they are also the type to run right over you if you stand between them and their goal.

Cholerics are known for being insensitive and believing that they are always right. In situations where they aren’t right, they will be very reluctant to admit it, or even to apologize. Like Sanguines, Cholerics also have wide open body language and tend to be loud, but they are more likely to dress for pracitcality. Lord Vetenari of Terry pratctt’s Discworld series is a choleric.

Melancholy – as writers most of us have some melancholy in our temperament makeup. The word comes from the idea that these types of people had an excess of black bile in their bodies.

Melancholies are usually the moody artist types. They may be performers like sangines, but where the sanguine likes to be the center of attention, Melancholies like art for the sake of art. They are usually perfectionists who like things very neat, and may get depressed or moody when things don’t go their way. In the odd couple, Oscar was a melancholy.

Melancholies tend to dress simply in classic styles – if something is likely to go out of fashion in a year, they’d never wear it. They also have close body language and prefer privacy. In many ways, Melancholies are the polar opposites of sanguines. Ironically, a melancholy may date or marry a sanguine because they are attracted to their fun-loving nature. But then a melancholy will spend the rest of their lives trying to “fix” their sanguine partner’s personality. C3PO would be considered an example of a melancholy type of character.

The laid-back phlegmatic.

Phlegmatic – A phlegmatic is one of life’s wallflowers. Hippocrates believed that these people were ruled by an excess of phlegm in their bodies. This made them more sluggish.

Phlegmatics are easy going introverted characters who are usually contented with their lot in life, whatever that lot may be. They are usually the peacemakers in social situations. If a phlegmatic is motivated to action, they are the slow-and-steady wins the race type of character. The rest of the time, they are the couch potato types.

Phlegmatics are usually people who dress for comfort. Their posture might remind you of melted butter. When they stand, they’re usually leaning on something. When they have the option, they usually sit.

Crush from Finding Nemo and Hurley from Lost are both Phlegmatic types.

Keep in mind that no one character should fit neatly into any of these categories. The classifications are more like spots on a color wheel. Just like all colors are made up of a combination of primary colors, and values of black and white, people can be made up of a combination of temperaments as well as their environment, values passed down from parents, etc. (the old Nature vs. Nurture debate).

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.