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Creating Characters with the Four Temperaments (as well as understanding character motivation in literature)

November 19, 2014

I read recently that Mary Higgins Clark works several books at one time. Never thought I could do that, but apparently I can as I not only wrote/edited nearly 10,000 words on Breaking Promises the past two days, but started another story at the same time.

 

I started a beginning scene with a shy young man, an outspoken young slip of a girl, and a Ossabaw Island Pig bent on destruction. Ossabaw Island Pigs, of course, are rare breeds that are no longer used but can be found at Colonial Williamsburg as part of their preservation project.

 

Anywhow this tale has been brewing in my head for several weeks. After only a few hours I ended up with almost 4,000 words and the plot for a novella. All of this was done without any planning/plotting/character charts, etc. I had certainly jumped the line from plotter to pantser on this one, and I can say that this has never happened to me before. It was a little like being in the Twilight Zone.

 

Whether this will happen in the future, as I learn and grow as a writer, I don’t know, but at some point, at least for me, I will have to come back to the characters and do some detailing on their background. One of the best techniques I have found when starting out is to work with The Four Temperaments.

 

You can read about the Four Temperaments in a variety of places online, including here on Wikipedia, and for a longer more thorough article try here.  The basic idea is that people can be divided into four basic personality types, albeit with some crossovers. Sanguine individuals are fun-loving and pleasure-seeking and thrive in social situations. Choleric persons are serious, ambitious, and function best if they are in charge. Melancholic individuals are usually highly sensitive, especially to personal criticism. They feel deeply and are motivated by beauty and feelings. They are also analytical and quiet. Phelgmatic persons tend to be relaxed and peaceful. They rarely get upset in any situation, preferring to just let things happen as they happen. Of course, people can be a mixture of several, but usu