The four dimensions of character

571px-Color_discThere are no new stories. Today’s most popular books are built on the plots of stories that have existed for millennia. In the same manner today’s current personality assessments are built  on much older theories.  Sometime around 2400 years ago, the physician Hippocrates described his theory that human moods, emotions were caused by an excess or lack of basic body fluids. Too much blood and you became giddy and talkative, too little and you would become morose. Feeling lazy? Blame it on too much phlegm.  He probably borrowed the ideas from someone before him.

Although this was not a sound medical observation, the idea of four different personality types keeps reappearing.  And like artists using tempera paint (which comes from the same root word as temperament) people in the personality business keep painting four different factors, which they mix to obtain their spectrum of personalities.

Writers are in the personality business, because they create characters. So reviewing different variations of these four dimensions of personality can help you.  Basically, identify the major trait of your character, and find which other ones are likely to accompany it.

The four basic personalities according to Hippocrates:

Choleric –energetic, ambitious, aggressive, tyrannical.

Sanguine – charismatic, friendly, impulsive, self-indulgent.

Phlegmatic – observant, steady, calm, apathetic

Melancholic – independent, cautious, moody, depressed

In each case the list moves from the strengths, which we long for in the characters of our dreams, to the weaknesses. However, well-rounded character must have fsults. If you want to choose the strong points from more than one type, such as a character that is both energetic and charismatic, on the worse days this character will turn into a self-indulgent tyrant. But, then the tyrant can sometimes be tireless in attempts to accomplish great things. If you develop a wise character that is observant, calm and independent, when the problems are overwhelming the character may slip into suicidal thoughts and not care what happens to others. But the morose, depressed downer character may exhibit a streak of independence.

Finally, beware of basing your characters on any personality theories that only have positive traits. These are not true portraits of people and your characters will not seem plausible either.

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