Elements – A follow up on the narrative choices

The old philosophers divided the world into four elements and four humors. The elements were fire, water, earth and air. The humors were sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic.
I have found that I tend to focus on some of these elements much more in my writing than on others. The same goes for the humors.
The elements that feature heavy in my writing are water and earth. Water is present in the crossing of oceans, streams and rivers. It is used in its life preserving capacity, but also as a menacing entity.
My characters are cleansed with it and the absence of water translates to dread.
Earth is represented by the fact that many of my characters are very grounded and that they wander around on it a lot.
Fire does not make many appearances. I think, aside from the occasional explosions, it is almost never mentioned.
Air is the element that my characters are most unfamiliar with. I have never had a speaking character who was a pilot. Yes, sometimes people go on a plane in my stories, but it is always a noteworthy exception. In contrast to that, I had many a ship’s captain, sailor, rider, or climber in my stories. It’s not that I am not fascinated by air travel, I just never had the urge to give my protagonists any skill sets in that area.
When it comes to the humors, I have my preferences as well. Let me first explain a bit, what those four humors refer to. The sanguine humor is connected to the blood. Sanguine people are believed to be happy, go lucky people. Friends, who are honest and open and know how to laugh.
Choleric people are connected to the gall bladder and are supposed to be easily angered. They are the ones who turn red faced and blow up at the smallest affront. They are in a bad mood, curse and argue constantly and are brash and brazen when it comes to the needs of others.
Melancholic people are also connected to the gall bladder, but to the black part of it. (Here you can see where the theory certainly lacks any scientific grounding.)
Melancholic people are supposed to be sad, aloof and in thought. They are the ones who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and who live a profound sadness and dissatisfaction. It’s the guy with the dark shirt in a corner, who is reading a book.
Phlegmatic people are connected with spit/slime. Those people a characterized by being slow. They are not easily moved emotionally. They will not give you outburst on either the positive or the negative side. The don’t care. They also come across as not very smart, because they either do not respond, or they respond rather slowly.
Out of those four humors, I enjoy writing the sanguine and the melancholic ones. I like people who can laugh, even in hard situations. I like to write characters that can be a bit bubbly.
I also feel comfortable in the melancholic corner. My characters are not unscathed. They have seen things and done things that are weighing on their conscious. Therefore they do reflect at times and some characters are more damaged than others.
I even like to have a choleric character every once in a while, because they spice up the proceedings.
I like the phlegmatic characters the least. I just don’t ave any patience for them. I do not think I will ever have a phlegmatic protagonist. It is tough to advance the story when your main character just doesn’t give a rat’s behind. I also have a difficulties reading about those types of characters. I need more emotional depth. I can’t really relate to a character who has things happing to him/her, then they quietly reflect on those for a while and then in the end decide, that although the situation is not ideal, they can live with it. I need characters to be agents of change.

So I guess, if you really want to challenge me, make me write a story of a phlegmatic pilot who doesn’t really change. I don’t think I can do it.

The only person who could do that was was Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. And you can see what a master he was, because ‘The little Prince’ is a story I absolutely love. (And you can also argue that the character of the pilot is not phlegmatic at all, because he cares a whole lot.)


About scratchingcat

Writer, mother, friend.
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2 Responses to Elements – A follow up on the narrative choices

  1. ChelseaIRL says:

    you’ve got me thinking about things/ characters that commonly happen in my stories. my characters are generally fueled by anger, revenge or duty, and they tend to get covered in blood at some point of the story.
    as for the elements, I talk about the air, wind, and breath quite a lot. I don’t talk about water very often at all. fire happens. I kind of like burning things. and earth I guess could take place as travel. my characters do get dirty occasionally. dirt and dirtiness tends to go with blood and pain.
    and I also don’t have any phlegmatic characters. not even secondary characters. not even my characters roaming around in the background. everyone cares about something. …I think I only have one story that doesn’t include at least one fight scene. my stories are a dangerous place to live.

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