The Four Temperaments

I have to make a confession:

I have made no progress on revising my manuscript this week. Sad, but true. With the start of the new semester, figuring out how I’m going to get to my classes on my huge campus and gauging when major assignments are due, ordering textbooks that I actually need, and becoming involved with a few activities hasn’t left me a lot of time to write fiction. However, I also admit that I have wasted a lot of time I could have used to make little steps of progress.

I realise just how much time I waste checking the same things (*cough*emailfacebook*cough*) over and over throughout the day. I also have realised that even though I am usually pretty good about working diligently on a project once I get started, getting started is the hardest part.

My friend recently lent me a book about the four basic temperaments that everyone is born with, and I’ve learned that I am the “melancholic.” I am highly introspective, thoughtful, critical, and attentive to detail. These things are excellent qualities when applied to a work in progress, especially during a revision phase, but they can also paralyse melancholics at the get go. So many choices, so many ways to screw up, where do I begin?

If you happen to be a “sanguine,” though (my temperament’s opposite), you’re usually very enthusiastic and peppy about everything, but you may have a hard time focusing on a project when it gets arduous. You’re a great cheerleader and can motivate others, but you may struggle with precision and staying on task.

“Cholerics” tend to be motivated by challenges and debate; if you tell a choleric he can’t do something, he will dig in and do it just to prove you wrong. This bullishness is great once the fires get stoked, but you better clear the line! Once the choleric gets going, he can be like a bulldozer on a rampage, disregarding trivial things like accuracy and empathy for the feelings of others he may step on in the process.

The “phlegmatic” is a gentle soul who prefers to avoid conflict at all costs, even his own happiness. He is an easy-going fellow who provides loyalty and stability, with a knack for peacemaking. However, his passive nature can be his downfall if he never makes a stand for anything or rouses himself to action.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s interesting, of course! No, but seriously, it occurred to me while I was reading this how I might apply it to character development in my own writing; if everyone in the world tends towards one of these four characteristics (we are all a blend of a dominant one and a secondary one, however; these are just the extremes), then it should be easier to understand their motivations.

Also, I have begun reflecting how best to motivate myself and harness the creative energy so innate to melancholics in order to better my work; what I think I need is a booster shot of enthusiastic, go-get’em energy from a sanguine companion.

If you want to read more about the Four Humours (or temperaments), I recommend The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Larraine Bennett. Hopefully, I will have better news to report next Monday!

What type of temperament do you have? How can you harness its strengths to improve your writing? What areas do you struggle with in writing due to your temperament?

3 thoughts on “The Four Temperaments”

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. I just finished the book and found it fascinating. It’s really useful (and a little awe-inspiring) to discover just how differently some people approach the world than I do. Now, I feel much better prepared to understand the motivations of the people I encounter.

  1. Just out of curiosity; where did you write the novel? In writing papers? In computer? Laptop; or desktop? Mac or PC? Don’t mind it’s just a personal wish to know.

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