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So You Want To / Write a Four-Temperament Ensemble

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A staple of all genres, media, and times, the Four-Temperament Ensemble easily rivals the Five-Man Band for presence. You have four diverse but clear personalities, four contrasting attitudes to the job, and four different but somehow interconnected functions. Almost always coincidental itself, we are assuming here that you want to write one on purpose, or at least be prepared for the possibility of coincidence.


But why would I want such a cliched scheme? Well, like the Five-Man Band, it works precisely for that reason (and probably others). However, unlike the Band (whose purest depiction applies The Smurfette Principle to The Chick), it has no pure or anachronistic designation and can be of any moral alignment whatsoever. The Sword of Plot Advancement can also be used by any one of them. They are as suited to low-key Slice of Life activity as they are to the hardest core of Speculative Fiction. Long as you have exactly four, it doesn’t matter how many are male or how many are female.note  Despite being based primarily on their personalities, they all have a purpose, no one is redundant, and eventually we get to know them all one-on-one. Moreover, it's another framework to set up the characters: start with their position in the ensemble and build from there. It also outlines their basic relationships with each other and eventually the wider world, greatly simplifying your work. Furthermore, you don't have to worry too much about pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo in the long run.


With this out of the way, let’s get down to creating the ensemble. For purposes of this guide, we will be using a Gender-Equal Ensemble.


We start with archetypes for each character and proceed from there. There are, of course, four definite types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic (II). Then create a name for each — for example, Sarah, Craig, Matt, and Paula. Then spice up their personalities based on the occupied archetypes and flesh out their own personalities.

Core of the ensemble (includes Myers-Briggs profile as a general referent):

The Sanguine (E_F_) and / or (E__P):

Meet Sarah. The outgoing one. She believes in getting out there and getting others on board with the group.

Sanguines are often the joker or The McCoy of the group: more lighthearted, carefree and optimistic. They provide moments of levity necessary in the work and urge the rest of the group forwards with their bright outlook on life. The Other Wiki also pegs them down as imaginative and artistic. Sarah is likely the glue that sticks the group together. She's the one with great dreams and plans, but may also be fairly naive (hence the air association) and / or Innocently Insensitive. Almost always the absolute Red Oni of the ensemble and more likely than not to be The Big Guy. In addition to being protagonist material, her style of leadership is likely Charismatic.


Challenges posed by her partners:

  • In many cases, Craig will be at the absolute the top of the list. Since she is probably their resident Cloudcuckoolander, Sarah may have problems understanding why he feels and acts as he does.
  • On matters of humor, Matt will be her opponent. She may love practical jokes, but his demeanor will eventually have her going, "Why so serious?"
  • As far as public appearances go, she will likely clash with Paula (who will be easily forgotten in favor of the stage light). Sarah loves to be the center of attention, something that doesn't come naturally to Paula.

While she is a natural Performer (and hardly one to hold a grudge), Sarah is also a natural Mood-Swinger that can change moods on a dime.

A Sanguine person in contrast to others: they are less prone to fits of anger, but more scatterbrained than Cholerics; more active and outgoing, but less delicate than Phlegmatics; more cheerful and optimistic, but less organized than Melancholics.

How do I get her to care about the plot: Make it fun! Sanguine people like fun, especially if it involves goofing around with friends or making new ones (Joins to Fit In may make an appearance). Of course, you can go the Avatar: The Last Airbender route and get Sarah into a scrape while she's escaping her actual responsibilities, just like Aang. Alternately, make that scrape dovetail into a massive recruiting drive that will help her allies through their inevitable Last Stand. They're usually compassionate and optimistic to a point that they can miss problems and be tricked by deceptive characters, but are also more likely to take a chance on unlikely allies - see Princess Anna of Arendelle. Nice sanguines can be after For Happiness, but not to the point of Utopia Justifies the Means - generally, sanguines just don't have the attention span to be Totalitarian Utilitarian dictators and will happily settle for a Small Steps Hero. Evil ones will usually do their stuff For the Lulz, without philosophical consideration. But if you want to make them bad with a Freudian Excuse or a Face–Heel Turn - they really dislike loneliness. A lot.

How does she handle anger: And why is it important? Well, anger is our emotional reaction to real or perceived unfairness. The "this is effin' wrong" emotion. Unsurprisingly, as each temperament has its own reaction style, emotions are processed somewhat differently, and anger being the one that motivates a lot of heroics (and villainy), as well as a rather visible one, is a good indicator of temperament. In Sarah's case, anger is like a summer storm - intense, loud, but dissipates quickly. She'll vent at you, all right, but then she'll forgive and forget. If the issue is not of the easily resolvable kind, though, poor Sarah might go into a Heroic BSoD, at least until she finds the silver lining (her friends should help with that).

Maturing the character, or character arcs specific to her: Coming-of-Age Story. Sanguines seem childish, but are quite capable of growing up and you can have a lot of ups and downs before they settle into Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! - the trope that characterises a mature sanguine's attitude at life. Have Sarah learn to think of others, not just of what's fun to her - it helps to give her some dream to realise, or to have her fall in love. She needs to understand other people may be much different from her. A nice example of a maturing sanguine arc is Sir Sadlygrove Percedal of Wakfu. Also see Joy's journey in Inside Out and Aang's arc from The Last Airbender.

The Choleric (E_T_) and / or (E__J):

Meet Craig. The pragmatist. He believes in spearheading the task for the group.

Cholerics are energetic and task-bound, trading wild flights of fancy for a no-nonsense attitude. They are ambitious, sometimes Hot-Blooded, and attempt to take a position of a leader; they're also usually strong-willed, if not downright bull-headed, my-way-or-the-highway types. While cholerics tend to be practical and utilitarian, they can be carried away by their temper and have a short fuse - they're not associated with fire for nothing. Besides being quick to anger, they can (and will) hold a grudge. Craig will probably be the type of a guy who despises long waits and urges the group forwards. He's likely not a people person, but can get a job done given the right incentive. In short, he can slide smoothly into any component of the Freudian Trio and his style of leadership is likely Headstrong.

Challenges posed by his partners:

  • While they all pose a different challenge to his patience, Sarah tops the list on almost all fronts. Her impulsiveness and tendency to forget so fast are but two of his issues. He may, with valid reason, caution Matt and Paula to leave her out of any discussions involving highly sensitive resources or data, lest she prematurely spill the beans. While the other two will be taking turns as the Cloudcuckoolander's Minder, that job is mainly his. When Sarah is the Genki Girl, he would be the Only Sane Man.
  • As far as response time goes, Matt will be the thorn in his side. While Matt has the (fire-forged) patience to pick the lock on a door, Craig will be itching to kick the damn thing in.
  • If the issue is waiting time, Paula will incur his wrath. As far as Craig is concerned, Matt is Speedy Gonzales next to her.

While he is a natural Field Marshal (and lancer), Craig will definitely not ignore his partners' birthdays or tell the world their dirty little secrets. And remember, he's only being harsh with you because you're getting it wrong.

Choleric and others: more disciplined, but less people-friendly than Sanguine; more independent and flexible, but less patient than Phlegmatic; more energetic, but less thoughtful than Melancholic.

How do I get him to care about the plot: Make it a challenge - a contest with high prizes is one way to do it, but for some cholerics bragging rights are prize enough. Or the warm, fuzzy feeling of having won! (Yeah!) Just look at Toph Bei Fong, the best earthbender in the world! Although, cholerics may have such high standards The B Grade is a veritable catastrophe for them (we're looking at you, Monica Geller!) and they will move heaven and earth to stay The. Best. Alternatively, he might be Only in It for the Money (Well, Excuse Me, Princess!) - see Rocket Racoon. Or, especially if he's villainous, for power. Unlimited power! Then again, if your choleric is one of the good guys, it might be power to do the right thing - a good-guy choleric might well believe they're the only person there who can be trusted to get stuff done. A rebel leader might very well be choleric, like Leia "Into the chute, flyboy!" Organa, for example. Other cholerics have a Dream (the capital very much supposed to be here) to realise and will stop at friggin' nothing till they achieve it - Cid Highwind is one of those. Especially think about the Final Battle and the role Craig is going to play in it.

How does he handle anger: If Craig has a bone to pick with you, you will know. He'll be loud, he'll persistently hold a T-rex sized grudge and you will Never Live It Down as far as he's concerned. When some impersonal force is causing his wrath, expect him to become The Determinator and mow it down or die trying.

Maturing the character, or character arcs specific to him: Craig might have to bite it and Tame His Anger or his Sore Loser tendencies. Expect ranting. Prince Zuko (who is actually a melancholic trying to be a choleric for two and a half seasons) might give you pointers there on chanelling Craig's natural passion into something creative and constructive. If your choleric happens to be female, beware of Chickification - it will ring very, very false to have this spitfire Damsel out of Distress suddenly turn into a doe-eyed little lady (again, Leia's romace arc is a good example to follow if you want a Choleric gal to fall in love, but not the only possibility). Other possibilities include learning the value of teamwork and how to be a good leader (instead of I-know-best-Surrounded by Idiots yelling Drill Sergeant Nasty), how to appreciate finer things in life or how to stop trying to control everything.

The Melancholic (I_T_) and / or (I__J):

Meet Matt. The sober thoughtful one. He believes in charting the course for the group.

Melancholics are more emotionally distant, and more likely to notice the dark side of things. They are, however, organized and can do their job very well, mostly thanks to being more grounded and methodical - their element is earth. Matt is just as likely to be an Emotionless Girl (well, boy) as he is to be Awesome by Analysis. He'll like to plan ahead, make arrangements and prepare for the worst, but don't expect him to go out of his way to be nice to others (except Paula) or spare anyone, even himself, the blame. He will probably care, though, he just won't show it very much. This makes him a natural to be The Leader (likely the Mastermind) or The Kirk.

Challenges posed by his partners:

  • Paula might seem like The Slacker to him, but they're also likely to bond over being the quiet ones of the four. A Tall, Dark, and Handsome melancholic guy is not at all unattractive to phlegmatics, by the way.
  • As far as moving forward goes, Craig will be the thorn in his side. Craig might continue charging headlong into his problems like a rhinoceros, but Matt has learned to take a step back and think.
  • If the issue is efficiency and / or seriousness, Sarah will incur his wrath. Matt isn't a natural practical joker and likely won't take kindly to Sarah's antics when he needs to get a job done.
While he is a natural Inspector, Matt can easily flourish in a group when he understands the stakes.

With other temperaments: more "down to earth", but less warm than Sanguine; more thoughtful, but less motivated than Choleric; more hard-willed, but less sociable than Phlegmatic.

How do I get him to care about the plot: Melancholic characters care about the bigger picture (It's All My Fault can make an appearance there - melancholics are prone to mulling over their actions and whether they should have acted differently). They consider it important that their work is meaningful, and also have lots of scientific curiosity. A quiet drama scene is a good way to highlight Matt's goals, issues, and ultimate sense of function in the ensemble. Alternatively (for a more antiheroic or downright villainous melancholic), give him some great personal wrong to redress - look to the prince of Denmark and to the new Khan note  for pointers. As for melancholics on the side of the angels, Elsa of Arendelle is a good example - generally duty-conscious, contemplative, very private and reserved, but well able to unleash the drama and cares more than she initially lets on.

How does he handle anger: Matt is the subtle one. For him revenge is a dish Best Served Cold and he will plot, sometimes for years, pretending he's not up to anything until he's ready to spring the trap. (You can see why melancholics make such juicy villains; keeping their grudges in check is one of their biggest issues.) In a less dramatic setting, say, office comedy, Matt is likely to be passive-aggressive. Against impersonal forces, though, his long-term planning ability and foresight will be just what the team needs.

Maturing the character, or character arcs specific to him: Matt is the one most prone to moral fear - being afraid that he'll do something wrong, bring on a catastrophe and it will be his fault, as opposed to being afraid of others perceiving him as a failure or of anything external that might happen to him. While moral fear is an important part of human moral immunological system, having too much of it will hold you back when you ought to act - this may be a problem to Matt and overcoming it is a temperament-specific plot you can very well use. Also see classical theatre: both Greek and Shakespearean tragedy tends towards melancholic protagonists.

The Phlegmatic (I_F_) and / or (I__P):

And finally, meet Paula. The Stoic. She believes in being behind the scenes while the other three are on the field.

Phlegmatics are good with people - a phlegmatic person will lend you a shoulder to cry on and listen to you. They are empathic and tolerant, but can be witty or joking as well, and will slide smoothly into any assembly - their element is water. They are, however, indecisive, and can compromise too much. Paula will be a calm presence of the group, likely a team medic, if such thing is necessary, and a good listener. If a villain is to change sides, she'll be the first to accept him, or even prompt him to switch sides. No matter what the scale for the other three, she is almost always the absolute Blue Oni (and probably The Heart) of the four. Long story short, she is the ensemble's natural peacekeeper and probably The Spock. Her style of leadership is likely Levelheaded.

Challenges posed by her partners:

  • Except for being a little on the clumsy or sesquipedalian side, Matt isn't likely to pose much of an issue to her.
  • If the issue is waiting time, Craig will get on her nerves. Even her patience has its limits, and she may snap at one too many zingers or barbs. She will be the Good Cop to his Bad Cop.
  • If conversations are a problem, Sarah will be the thorn in her side. Paula will take a step or two back and think before going in, something Sarah doesn't always consider.

While she is a natural Healer, Paula can easily handle a second-in-command role when necessary.

When compared to others: more tolerant and calmer, but less energetic than Sanguine; more peaceful, but less decisive than Choleric; more empathic and sociable, but lacking the iron core of Melancholic.

How do I get her to care about the plot: Emphasize the inner workings of the ensemble's base. Phlegmatic protagonists tend to appear in British science fiction and urban fantasy, see Arthur Dent, Richard Mayhew or Rory Williams for pointers. Also, Jules Verne liked to have a Hypercompetent Sidekick slash Comic Relief phlegmatic on the team (e.g. Conseil in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Generally, short of just pulling the rug from under their feet, the trick is to find that one special person your phlegmatic cares about the most - and put them in danger. This special person doesn't need to be part of the team - indeed, if Paula's goal is to rescue someone, they're probably not. Although, sometimes You Can't Go Home Again, so Paula and her ward will have to find a permanent place in the group (see Simon and River Tam). If the special person is part of the team, Paula's Undying Loyalty will make it impossible for her to let them In Harm's Way on their own. And after she's been with the group for a while, she'll tend to slip into the role of Team Mom.

How does she handle anger: Paula is a mellow gal who rarely goes beyond sarcastically pointing out what's wrong with the world. She dislikes personal conflict - showing anger, for her, would be covered by O.O.C. Is Serious Business. Tranquil Fury is a possibility, but so is an intricate plot to get rid of whoever wronged her (in a mystery story she might be the poisoner - but she must have a really good motive). The full-time evil phlegmatics may seem like Harmless Villains, since their brand of evil is deceptively impersonal, clinical and banal - wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers. If there's an impersonal force causing problems, Paula will stick to the support role. She'll provide Matt with a sounding board and keep Sarah from getting discouraged.

Maturing the character, or character arcs specific to her: If you're developing her character, you might be tempted to get her to stand up for herself or undertake a physical Training Montage (a la Daniel Larusso) - that's okay, just don't overdo it. Alternatively, since Paula is pretty much the supporter of the ensemble, you could show how she holds the team together and how they break apart when she's absent or when they ignore her - in Moominpapa and the Sea this happens to the family when Moominmama is being pretty much set aside and everyone drifts apart from the others.


Now we go into the relationships between each duo. If you took each character and connected them to any one other, you would have six different pairs. What makes them an effective pair? What's going to cause them to clash? And what can they combine to achieve within the ensemble? As we already know by the description of the trope on its own page, each temperament shares one link with the other three. That includes the polar opposites.

Sanguine and Choleric:

The Extroverted pair. Expressive high, Hot element, responsive delay short. The combo that operates mainly on the front lines. They are both Red Onis, but Sarah is more cheerful and sociable, while Craig is more likely to charge headlong into his problems. Craig will likely have his hands full containing Sarah, while she will have her hands full trying to soften his edges, throughout the story (also see Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl).

Choleric and Melancholic:

The Task-oriented pair. Responsive low, Dry element, responsive duration long. The combo that deals mainly with the mission, the goal, and the sensitive technical details in between, and most likely to be the Insufferable Genius / Hidden Heart of Gold. They are socially colder, but also more "professional", or professionally-acting than other pairings. Craig will be the more active of the pair while Matt stays under the radar whenever he can help it.

Melancholic and Phlegmatic:

The Introverted pair. Expressive low, Cool element, responsive delay long. The combo that operates mainly on the rear lines. By their very nature the most peaceful pair and experts at the Death Glare, they are why anyone should Beware the Nice Ones. They won't have much in the way of emotional conversations, but Paula could bring some humanity out of Matt. As they are both Blue Onis, they believe in slow and steady for a reason.

Phlegmatic and Sanguine:

The People-oriented pair. Responsive high, Moist element, responsive duration short. The combo that deals mainly with relationships, whether in the ensemble or not. Sarah will be the more active of the pair, while Paula stays on the sidelines and keeps quieter. Paula sees more than Sarah, who's likely to charge through a conversation like a rhinoceros. Working together, they can easily be the social experts the ensemble always needs.

Sanguine and Melancholic:

The Emotional pair. The combo that grapples mainly with the impractical / disorderly issues. If any two characters aren’t at odds, at least for too long, it’s probably this pair. Conflict may arise from the fact that while Sarah is more outgoing and optimistic, Matt avoids too much contact with people and prefers to plan for the worst. There's a good chance they won't see eye-to-eye on a possible Indy Ploy.

Choleric and Phlegmatic:

The Unemotional pair. The combo that grapples mainly with the practical / orderly issues. If any two characters are at odds for an extended period, it’s most likely this pair. Paula's empathy and emotiveness can go a long way to calm Craig down and teach him patience, or at least make him relax a bit and take his mind off work. They're also likely to have a far deeper respect for each other than they dare let on.

Example situations

There might not be a clear advantage or disadvantage to being down one character; however, they still have goals they need to accomplish and paths they need to take toward those goals. These scenes were already touched on in Write a Five-Man Band; they apply to the ensemble more often than not.


The ensemble needs to pull information out of someone. Paula is likely prowling the grounds for surprises. Either Craig or Sarah is talking to The Mark with the other in support and keeping others off their back. Matt, meanwhile, is likely to have one foot in the crowd door and the other outside with whatever their mode of transportation is.


Before the big event, the ensemble needs to iron out the details of their mission. While taking all ideas under consideration, Matt has a particular eye on the intricacy of the operation. Craig is thinking about mundane issues and potential holes in the strategy. Sarah is perfectly fine going along to get along, though she won’t hesitate to pipe up about a particularity she doesn’t understand. Paula is considering moral implications and trying to reach compromise between what they’re all after.

The final battle

In fight settings, Craig and Sarah are on the battlefield, ready to confront the enemy. Matt is either in support, attacking where his allies haven't yet reached, or taking on the most important and dangerous task in the entire mission. Paula is back at the base, minding the fort and setting up for the return; she may also serve as Matt's spotter.

Adding on to the ensemble:

If you add one more character to the ensemble, you have made it into a Five-Man Band. Like the band, though, any other such additions take it out of its original territory and turn it into The Team. There can be allies, of course, but no one that is actually part of the ensemble itself. These are the connections and liaisons that go on to be honorary True Companions.

Always consider, however, whether the new addition isn't just a rehashing of someone already in the ensemble. Handled properly, though, this can avert The Main Characters Do Everything.


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