The temperament philosophy is an old, outdated pseudoscience. It's not a very effective method to gauge people's personalities, since individual people are too diverse to be narrowed down into one or two categories. Like the Enneagram, or the Myers-Briggs Test, it tries to take something as complicated as a human personality and narrow it down, or pigeon hole it, into a single category or, at most, one category with few supporting points.
Despite being pseudoscientific and specious at best, they're still fun to work with, because they can sometimes give you a handle on what type of individual you are. You might find that you fit more into one category than the others, or you might find that you fit more into a handful of categories than others. It can give you a label to help define yourself - both a blessing and a curse, because that label you use to help others identify some part of you can become the only thing that defines you, and when that happens, something went wrong. For instance, I'm a very strong Type 3 on the Enneagram, and my MBTI is INFJ (which is a bit of a contradiction, but I score high on Type 1, Type 4, and Type 7, the usual matches for my MBTI).
As an author, however, these can be good starting places when designing characters (I'll admit that I didn't start here. I take parts of my own personality and I break it up and let it grow from there, but that's beside the point; this is clearly intended to be a "do as I say, not as I do" post). I do sometimes take personality tests from the perspective of my characters, just so I can know ahead of time, or help get a better view of who they are as people. It can help you flesh out and define the little people populating your book: it can also help you spot potential conflicts a mile away - and explore it in your book.
This method is how I've been able to flesh out the cast of the Blue Pimpernel in my head, at least, as well as I have. Each girl has a very distinctive personality, with similarities and differences that make them stand out but make it so that it makes sense when they work together, and make even more sense when they rub one another the wrong way and it leads to conflict.
I was glancing through this post on the four temperament philosophy, and it hit me just how easily I can break the cast (or, rather, the main four characters, anyway) into the categories. It helps a lot that, as the author says, "everyone has a little bit from all of them (aka, the P.T. Barnum effect)", but that everyone has one major, defining trait and a minor one. While that may be true for some people, and not for others (it isn't for me), it helps me get a better grip on the characters and come at their personalities from a different perspective.
All samples are from the The Blue Pimpernel: Liquidity. I vouch not for quality, since I haven't even finished the final draft yet, let alone proof read. However, consider this to be a sneak peak of sorts:
“Found the lab!” Karasu said.“Found a lab,” she heard Helsing say. “Rene and I found another one.”“Well, that’s certainly…” Karasu was cut off when a loud explosion ripped through the room, blew the door off, and caused the entire building to rattle. “Impressive.”“Holy shit, Aya. I heard that out here,” Specter said.“Holy shit, Ben, I can barely here you in here,” Karasu said, trying to adjust to the fact that her ears were ringing rather loudly.“That was some kind of drug lab,” the Ghost said.“So I take it we don’t want to destroy the one that we found, huh?” the Pimpernel asked.“Drug labs are dangerous. One little mistake and the whole thing goes up like a volcano,” the Ghost said.“So a slow dismantle without breaking anything,” Helsing said.“No,” the Pimpernel said. “A rock, a few matches, and running like fuck.”Karasu sighed. “There’s no need to be pointlessly destructive,” she said, running back through the exit of the gym.“Says the girl who just blew up her lab,” the Pimpernel said.“I was shot at,” Karasu said.“Don’t destroy anything,” Maggie said. “Come back to the van; we know this is a manufacturing place, we know that this is where they make them, so let’s let the police….”“Run,” the Pimpernel said.Karasu raced through the first door, spinning around and looking at the building as the Pimpernel and Helsing took a dive from the second story window. The Pimpernel caught herself and rolled, and Helsing did the same, both of them running. A split second later, the room exploded in a violent fireball.“Kaboom,” Specter said.“Jesus Christ, Renee,” Maggie muttered.“The police. Maggie, do you know what’ll happen if we leave that for the police? They’ll help!”Karasu sighed and shook her head, running parallel to them. A few seconds later there was an even larger explosion in the building, and they could now see large flames licking from some of the windows."Well, we don't have to worry about that, now do we?" the Ghost said.Karasu looked back over her shoulder and spotted several people run from the interior of the burning house. That was the last she saw of them before she ducked into the towering grass, continuing full speed ahead towards the road, and on the other side of it, the van.
There are four temperaments, each one with their own traits: Choleric, generally associated with alpha behavior; Sanguine, generally associated with socializing, social butterflies, and people who love and engage in drama; Phlegmatic, or meek, inoffensive followers; and Melancholic, or people who are serious, stoic, creative and intelligent. A person usually has one dominate trait and a secondary one to help flesh them out, but they can pick up and hold traits from all of the different groups. So an individual might be Sanguine predominately with Phlegmatic supporting traits. I personally am fairly evenly distributed across the board as far as that is concerned - I have traits from all of them, but at any given time, I tend to weigh Melancholic or Choleric (I'm extremely slow to anger, but when I get angry, watch out; my wraith is something to behold).
Each of the main characters of the Blue Pimpernel fits rather well into a category created by some combination of the two, likely because I created all of them by breaking up my personality and spreading it out amongst them. Because of that, it shouldn't come as a surprise the bulk of them have Choleric traits as a secondary temperament.
Renee, the protagonist, is Melancholic/Choleric. Renee shares this temperament with Aya, who is also Melancholic/Choleric, but the two of them are different enough in significant ways that it's hard to tell they share the same temperament.Both the couch and the television had come from her [Renee's] house, too. When she moved out, Maria and John asked if she wanted to save anything. Because she was too shocked and numb to answer either way, they “pillaged” the house – John called it that, jokingly – and what they took found its way into their basement, with the rest of the crap they hadn’t unpacked.As she looked at the couch, her mind drifted back and she remembered all the times, growing up, that she’d run instinctively to that couch, in the corner of the living room. She would steal something from Sam as a little girl, and her first instinct was to bolt for the couch and bury it. She’d get sick, or be tried from school, and her first instinct was to collapse on that couch. As a toddler, she would have tickle battles with her mom on that couch. Shortly after one of her birthdays, she and Ofelia fell asleep on that couch.She took in a deep breath and turned away. She was happy they had it. But she wasn’t ready to deal with the memories that came along with it, buried under those brown cushions and between those metal springs. There was no place to go but forward; no other path to follow but the stairs up. She would deal with them in time, but moving forward was the path to healing.The kitchen attached to the basement stairs, right beside the fridge. Renee had her own carton of milk separate from the one that the rest of the family used; she had no problems drinking right from it, although Maria didn’t like her doing it. She opened the door and leaned in, looking around for her own special compartment.One on hand, she was happy to have her own special compartment in the fridge. She had her own block of cheese, her own ham, bacon, and small carton of eggs, and her own carton of milk, among other things. She knew it had something to do with the fact that the family couldn’t eat these things – the ham and bacon, anyway – she wasn’t all that aware of the restrictions that Maria imposed on her family, because Maria didn’t impose them on her.On the other hand, the fact that Maria imposed them on everyone else but her made her feel singled out; like she didn’t belong. Like she wasn’t part of the family. Maria was the driving reason why religion was practiced at all in the house; if it were left up to John, the family would be lapsed – like she was. Maria making the conscious decision to leave her out made her feel like she wasn’t welcome.
Renee's defining trait is her sheer stubborn, nigh inhuman levels of determination. However, she has a number of other traits, too, both fitting neatly into one of the two categories with only a little drawn from a third. Bolded are major, pronounced traits of hers.
- Emotionally Sensitive - Renee cries a lot in the first novel. She does in the second, too.
- Creative - Renee can be very creative in her problem solving. For instance, when she realized she couldn't match Roth in the first novel after Roth had undergone a series of heavy modifications (during the Joliet Union fight), she dropped a chandelier on him, instead.
- Passionate- Renee gets attached to something and will not back down.
- Has more that she dislikes than she like
- Easily upset
- Is very intense - as a side effect of being so damn stubborn and passionate .
- Is very slow to make friends and has a hard time making new friends
- Is very suspicious of othersCholeric:
- Brash - I can't think of to many things Renee ever stops to think through before she acts, and I created her
- Easily Angered
- Strong - Renee doesn't show a lot of strength, but it's in there
- More likely to fight than flee
- Reliable - Renee will pull through for her friends
- Vengeful - Not a major trait, but she got really pissed off in the first book and it became person between her and Roth.
- Loves Winning - She lacks a lot of self-esteem, and she doesn't like competing against her friends, but she does keep all the times she won close to her heart
- Naturally Physical - Renee shows her affection by holding your hand, hugging you, squeezing you, or through some kind of physical action or touch.
- Displays emotions openly - Renee has a hard time hiding her emotions
Aya is the hero when Renee is not wearing that hat and Ofelia is busy doing something else. She more classically fits the role of second-in-command, but because the girls form an adhocracy, whoever has the ability at the time is expected to live up to it. Renee and Aya have a lot of friction between the two of them, because they're so different but at the same time, so incredibly similar. Like Renee, Aya is Melancholic/Choleric, but the two differ in such pronounced ways that it can be difficult to tell. Aya picks up the traits of the two temperaments that Renee leaves behind:They were Ironsides Charts, detailing the time up to the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the new Millennial Kingdoms. Those charts were always so beautiful and colorful; it was like looking at a wild post-modern design or surrealist painting, by Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, or especially René Magritte’s “C’est n’est pas une pipe.” This was not the Bible. This wasn’t even a picture of it, but that this wild and fancifully feverish dream had never the less been accepted by so many Christians as “literal truth” took a lot away, in her [Aya's] opinion, from how colorful and beautiful the charts were. At points, it channeled Hannah Höch, one of the original inventors of the photomontage.That this was calling to mind Dadaist and surrealist art over 100 years old felt fitting. It felt more right than what they were hoping the charts would inspire for sure. The names were familiar, because she’d grown up with them in Sunday School: King David, Ezekiel, John of Patmos, and the Seven Churches of Asia. Anyone who knew anything about Christian history knew that the churches were major, early churches and they didn’t exist anymore except, perhaps, in spirit. She could name them all by heart: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatria, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. None of them had significant Christian populations anymore; she’d learned when she was in Israel that the bulk of Greek Christians had been deported by the Turks during the exchange of citizens, meaning that the churches – if you took it to mean the local population of Christians, rather than the buildings and streets themselves – effectively did not exist.There were seven messages. Each one went out to each church; a plea, to tell them to hold strong because they were under the assault of Roman authority during that time. She remembered studying about the history of Roman, and the history of apocalyptic literature, and how its nature was a lot like how some viewed Nostradamus’ predictions: veiled social critiques, made in an era when such critiques could get you killed. It was a message of hope: “your strength and fortitude of faith would be rewarded.”
While there was nothing about strength of faith and fortitude of faith, there was plenty about rewards. This chart, in fact, seemed to be all about rewards. And punishment. The last time she’d seen punishment displayed that graphically was Hieronymus Bosch’s works.There was almost an element of gloating to it. And that underscoring element made it far more disturbing than anything Bosch could have produced.
- Serious - Aya is usually the straight girl when one of the others is goofing off; usually Ben, but sometimes Renee if Renee made a joke she wasn't aware of.
- Emotionally Sensitive - Like Renee, Aya is sensitive emotionally
- She needs things to be right the first time around
- Bitter - Aya is a developing cynic
- Introverted - She's not outgoing at all
- Stubborn - She can be just as stubborn as Renee can
- Easily Upset, but keeps her emotions hidden
- Deep and Thoughtful - Aya is really smart, and has a tendency to over think things.
- Holds Grudges
- Prefers Planning - this is one of the areas where she doesn't get along with Renee
- Corrects Others - Renee, anyway
- Goal Orientated - She needs to see the results, that's all she cares about
- Gets Things Done
- Doesn't show weakness - She's not one to show how she's feeling, and because of it, she comes across as cryptic and cold
- Can't Admit if they're wrong - Especially if it was Renee who was right
- Criticizes Others - Renee, anyway
- Offers Unwanted Advice - to anyone who will listen
Cyan is the consummate follower. She would follow Renee and Ofelia to the end of the Earth, objecting to any stupid plan they have but not leaving them to their own devices. She has one or two moments per book when she does something by herself, on her own, but she's usually seen interacting with someone else. Cyan is a Phlegmatic/Melancholic individual:Ofelia wasn’t in their room. She [Renee] shared a room with Ofelia because two of them had to share a room, and she felt more comfortable sharing a room with Ofelia than she did with Cyan. Cyan’s room was across the hall; Renee peered through the door and looked into the bathroom next door, and then into Cyan’s room. Her room was meticulous; everything had a place, the bed was perfectly made, what little stuff she’d brought along was either put up nice and neat or still in boxes. Cyan had made no mystery of the fact that she intended to move in with Aya, and while Aya would grumble about it around them, Renee was pretty confident that Aya would have no other way.After all, if she truly didn’t like it, she would’ve stopped Cyan.
PhlegmaticOfelia is the alpha female of the group. She is the outgoing one - if you want to find Renee, you look in the corner of the room. If you want to find Ofelia, you look in the middle. She is the life of parties, the charismatic girly-girl who happens to love mechanics and engineering. The social butterfly who is also a mastermind leader. When Renee isn't wearing the leader hat, it's usually Ofelia (and if not her, then Aya).
- Can't say No
- Doesn't Assert Herself - this, however, is changing
- Trustworthy - Renee has been friends with her for a long time. Cyan is very reliable.
- Avoids Conflict
- Serious - Cyan doesn't make too many jokes, but unlike Aya, she's rarely the butt of them
- Analytical - Cyan is very intelligent
- Critical - But that won't stop her from doing something anyway
- Very Emotional, but keeps them inside - Cyan has one constant emotion: contentment. It doesn't matter what she's feeling inside; it's very rare for her to get upset
- Deep and Thoughtful - She's like Aya: She over thinks things
- Correct others - something that she's picked up on doing is correcting Renee or Ofelia when they make a mistake
- Reluctant to make friends, has a hard time getting to know people, and is slow to warm up to them - all of the same traits that Renee has apply to her as well
- Strong - Cyan is a rock.
- Reliable - If she gives you her word, she is there, and will be there, until the very end
“Blue was the one who broke it,” Ofelia said. “Aya, don’t try anything stupid. Wait for her to come back with the ladder.”“I’m not jumping, Ofelia.”“I just want to make sure.”Renee tucked her hands in her pockets. “Cyan probably wasn’t the best choice to fix it,” Renee said.“What are you talking about?” Ofelia said. “Blue is really smart.”“She is. But … well, just wait,” Renee said. “I still remember the ‘Hoover Tumbleweed Machine’ that she built. Technically, Ben and James talked her into building it; she rewired a vacuum clear for Ben’s ‘science fair project’ – that is, a strong enough gust of wind could blow all of the water off of the surface of the Earth, and that’s why the Earth had a 24 hour day and where the water from the Flood went.”“Flood?” Aya asked.“Noah’s Flood,” Ofelia said. “You know, the whole metaphorical story from Genesis about the guy with the boat and the animals? That story. We’ve been taught that it’s the ‘literal truth’ by people who don’t know what the words ‘literal’ or ‘truth’ mean.”
Ofelia's primary type is Sanguine, but she picks up traits from Choleric and Phlegmatic, as well. Ofelia has always been the most interesting character to me - Renee, Aya, and Cyan are all like me (or, as is the case with Renee and Aya, are me to varying degrees), but Ofelia is nothing like me.
SanguineAnd while there's other characters, those are the four major ones. I can do this too with the villains (for instance, Roth is purely Choleric; Justice is a mix of Choleric and Melancholic), and with the minor characters (Ben is Phlegmatic/Sanguine, Maggie is Choleric and Melancholic, Maria is Phlegmatic and Sanguine, etc), those are the four major protagonists.
- Displays Emotions Openly and changes them quickly
- Upbeat and outgoing - she's a direct contrast against the other fictional characters who have her name, and against her name sake: Shakespeare's "Ophelia".
- Positive - good things happen to those who go after them
- ExtrovertedLoves Attention - she loves having attention, and loves calling attention to herself
- Chatty - she's always willing to strike up a conversation, too, or get involved in the rumor mill
- Flighty - it's hard to tell, but some of her ideas are very, very stupid and very, very dangerous. For instance, the entire novel series is her fault.
- Feel comfortable around them - Renee does especially, and that's why they're best friends
- Naturally Physical - another reason she and Renee get along so well; both of them enjoy hugs and hand holding to show how much they care
- Makes Friends Quickly - in a few minutes she can become your new best friend
- ConfidentGets Things Done - Once Ofelia starts something, it happens, or it will happen
- Passionate - she's very passionate about any number of things
- Reliable - For the same reasons that Cyan is
- Trustworthy - despite being a social butterfly, Ofelia is really good at keeping secrets
- Avoids Conflict - she doesn't seek it out, and she tries to mitigate it when it rears its head, often times putting herself between Renee and Aya, and talking with Aya later (since she's closer in age to Aya than she is to Renee).
All of the sample text here is from the final rough draft of the second Blue Pimpernel novel. I'm still not done with it yet, but that's what the draft is shaping up like (meaning that this text might not be present in the final - but hey, you saw it here first).