Several weeks ago, I posted an interview with award-winning author, Gayle Roper. In it, she talked about how she made her characters so believable by assigning different personalities to them. I sat in one of her classes at a writers’ retreat and she talked about a classification system used by Marita and Florence Littauer.
The idea of classifying personality types is nothing new. Hippocrates believed that personalities were determined by four bodily fluids, or humors. He felt that people acted according to the mix of those four fluids. In fact the word, temperament comes from the Latin “temperare” which means “to mix.” Although others throughout history have developed classifications based on four personalities, Florence Littauer developed her system as a result of trying to revive her marriage after the death of one of her children. The main use of her Personality Plus is to understand and improve relationships.
Even though these classes of personalities were designed to help people understand themselves and others, writers can use them to know better how their characters would act in certain situations. For example, if one personality was frightened, he may show it through anger where another may show their fear through tears.
There are four basic personalities: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic and Melancholy. The Sanguine has a sunny personality – always the life of the party. The Choleric is the take-charge person – a natural-born leader. The Phlegmatic personality is always seeking peace, while the Melancholy wants everything to be perfect. While most people are a combination of two personalities, one is usually dominant.
The sunny Sanguine is the popular one in the bunch, always seeking attention and approval. On the other hand, the Sanguine can also be too wild or too loud and goes on spending sprees to make herself feel loved. Do you have a character that tries to charm his or her way into controlling every situation? Then you definitely have a Sanguine on your hands.
The commanding Choleric is always in charge and knows exactly what to do in every situation. In fact, this personality is so confident in his abilities that he’ll become angry if someone tries to disagree with his plans. If one of your characters is a workaholic obsessed with power, then you can be he’s a Choleric.
The passive Phlegmatic is easygoing and dependable. He’s the glue that holds all the other personalities together. However taken to extremes, he can be lazy and dull. It may be difficult to make a phlegmatic an interesting main character, but you’ll need at least one as a secondary character to round out the others.
The mellow Melancholy strives for creativity and perfection. An independent-thinker, he or she may also avoid relationships and become hypercritical. Be careful with this personality, as too much of it can become withdrawn and antisocial.
There are also some natural combinations of personalities that you may want to use in your manuscript. For example, a strong, popular politician could be a Sanguine/Choleric combination. A powerful minister who specializes in hellfire and brimstone could be a Choleric/Melancholy combination. You may also have a combination of Phlegmatic and Sanguine or Melancholy and Phlegmatic. In each case, one of the two would probably be dominant although you could possibly have a more balanced combination of two.
There are several other methods of classifying or rating personalities, such as the Myers-Briggs test and DiSC assessment. Any method would be helpful for writers to use when developing characters, but I know this one works because Gayle Roper uses it. J
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