Writers in the Storm

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February 1, 2012

Chinese Element Personality Types-for Fun and for Writing

by Fae Rowen

Announcement: Kristen Lamb will be our guest on Friday with "Novel Diagnostics".

At the beginning of the year, I usually cycle back to the questions "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?"

I was thinking about Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon and remembered it's been awhile since I visited the Chinese Medicine Five Element Personality Types I first read and studied a decade ago.

If you're familiar with Chinese medicine or Feng Shui, you've heard of the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

Imagine each element placed around a one-way traffic circle and you'll have a good idea of how the elements "work."  Wood nourishes fire, which feeds earth, which nourishes metal, which feeds water which nourishes wood to complete the cycle.

Each element has distinct characteristics associated with personality and physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges.

In real life an understanding of how we are influenced by the elements around us can make our life easier.  For instance, before I knew any of this, I was lucky to marry a man who's a strong Metal personality.  He indeed "nourishes" my Water personality.  His secondary characteristic is Wood, which my Water feeds.

Imagine if I'd fallen in love with a Fire element who boiled my Water element characteristics and made me steam.  Of course my Water element would have come in handy to douse his Fire nature.

Probably you know what your astrological sign is.  And you have some idea of signs that you relate to and signs that can be difficult to deal with.  What if you had another tool to help you interact with the people around you?

Better yet, what if, instead of building your characters from the ground up on someone else's chart, you gave your protagonist and antagonist the personalities and challenges of two Chinese elemental personalities?  You've got built-in conflict just by picking two elements.

If you're in the middle of a project, another way to use the "test" is to answer the questions like your character would.  You'll get information about your character's type along with possibilities for additional traits that would be true to the human nature of that type.  And, of course, potential for conflict with other characters.

If you would just like a quick overview of the five element types, try this link.

If you would like to answer questions to determine your type, you can visit here.

There are many more sites you can explore if you're interested in more tests and more information.  I highly recommend the book Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield & Efrem Korngold.

Here is a summary of the five types with their challenges and contradictions.  You'll see many possibilities for conflict, both internal and external in this list.


  • Wants to be in charge but misses the companionship of equals
  • Yearns to do, to act but subject to uncontrollable impulse
  • Makes rules but likes to break them
  • Demands freedom but needs to struggle
  • Feels invincible but fears vulnerability and loss of control


  • Desires contact, intimacy but needs solitude
  • Loves sensation and feeling but fears being overwhelmed by intensity
  • Loves to say yes and can’t say no
  • Yearns for fusion and dreads dissolution
  • Lives in the moment,but dreads the future


  • Being at the still points and feeling stuck
  • Wanting to be full but feeling weighed down, overstuffed, and overwhelmed
  • Seeking emptiness and fearing that there is nothing at the core
  • Desiring change but wanting things to stay the same
  • Wanting to be needed but wary of being absorbed, losing the self


  • Wants relationship but needs distance
  • Knows what is right  but accepts what is safe
  • Aspires toward beauty but settles for utility
  • Wants joy - but fears spontaneity
  • Likes creativity, ingenuity but is intolerant of disorder, dissonance


  • Yearns for truth but fears exposure
  • Yearns for connection but is intolerant of contact
  • Likes to be squeezed but scared of being squashed
  • Wants to penetrate inside  but detests being absorbed
  • Enjoys being left alone but dreads being abandoned

Feeling a little crazy?  Justifiably so, according to your elemental characteristics.  These are the knots we tie ourselves into and the challenges of the memorable characters we want to write.

I've got a little experiment for you.  Let the character you're writing now have your elemental personality.  Throw challenges related to what he wants.  Tie her into knots with her fear related to her challenges.

You just might learn something about yourself in the process.  Something that may help you resolve some of your challenges and related fears.  Who knows, you may figure out ways to deal with people in your everyday life a little better.  And who couldn't use easier relationships?

What's your element?  Is there a challenge your element helped you recognize?  This blog was condensed from a full day workshop.  I'll be happy to share more traits in response to your comments.

And if you need a "diagnosis" from Kristen Lamb, you'll want to check in on Friday for some super tips.

0 comments on “Chinese Element Personality Types-for Fun and for Writing”

  1. Oh wow, Fae, great post! I'd never done this survey before. I'm Fire, with Earth only one point behind, and Metal not far behind that. Nails me, I have to say.

    Also made me feel better - they're right next to each other, and work together. Wow, can't imagine having opposites - you'd be fighting with yourself!!!

    I'll have to have my husband take it. Or maybe I don't want to know!

    1. Laura, you and I have exactly the same types. I'm Fire/Earth - one point apart, but I can't remember which was higher. I think fire. That is so very weird...

      1. What's weird about it, Jenny? Ever get the idea that looking at Laura was like looking in a mirror? Not literally, of course, but in the ability to handle the immediacy of some tasks? You're passionate about what you do. And you're grounded by Earth.

    2. Doesn't surprise me, Laura. Fire with the groundedness of Earth, quite a lovely support system.
      Here are some extra desires and values for Fire element people:
      • Excitement
      • Intimacy
      • Sensuality
      • Spontaneity
      • Expression
      • Yielding
      • Merging
      • Passion
      • Self-exposure
      • Performing
      No wonder you are willing to do whatever work is necessary for your passion--writing. And that passion involving expression--perfect.

  2. Fae, this is so dead-on ... my brother's joke to me as a kid, "You're a little doll." Pregnant pause and grin. "Wooden head and all." Breaks down laughing from his own joke.

    Little did he know how close he was to my real personality. Wood Monkey ... Monkey ... energetic, curious, chatterbox and creative. Might be a doll, but a real pain in the bum. Wood, all of the above in your post. I am so in love with rule breaking. Give me a rule and watch me smash it with glee ... after all she said ... weren't they meant to be broken?

    1. Monkeys are so much fun to be around. Here's some more on your element wood.
      Wood desires and values:
      • Struggle
      • Action
      • Arousal
      • Practicality
      • Uniqueness
      • Challenge
      • Achievement
      • Agility
      • Independence
      • Contest
      Hmmm...challenge, contest, independence and rule breaking. No wonder!

    1. Well, those of us who know and love you, Sharla, could have predicted the metal result. Here's some clarification of you desires and values:
      • Order
      • Purity
      • Reason
      • Aesthetics
      • Definition
      • Simplicity
      • Quality
      • Correctness
      • Standards
      • Precision
      No wonder your research for your historical is impeccable. Can you say order, precision, quality, correctness, standards?

  3. Apparently, I'm a water/metal/earth ox, with only a 3-point difference between water and earth. Guess that's the creative-instrospective-nuturer coming out to play, eh? Strongest in water.

    1. Here are water desires and values. They should be stronger than the metal I listed for Sharla.
      • Solitude
      • Mystery
      • Continuity
      • Originality
      • Toughness
      • Self-sufficiency
      • Privacy
      • Anonymity
      • Caution
      • Conservation
      I'm heavily water element, so I feel your joy (and pain) with these. The good news for you is that you have metal and earth for balance. More on balance in the next comment.

  4. Fun! My husband is from Taiwan. For a long time we didn't check the actual date and thought I was a tiger (started collecting tiger statues even). Then checking the date I found I'm really an ox - beast of burden. Well, duh! A mother of two! That made sense!

  5. OK, my husband took the test and was almost identical across the board - what the hell does that tell me??

    WOOD ARCHETYPE: The Pioneer.............................. 7
    FIRE ARCHETYPE: The Wizard.................................... 9
    EARTH ARCHETYPE: The Peacemaker......................... 7
    METAL ARCHETYPE: The Alchemist.............................. 9
    WATER ARCHETYPE: The Philosopher......................... 10

    1. You are so lucky to live with such a balanced man, Jenny. The goal is not to dwell on the characteristics for your type but to use those strengths and develop the other elemental characteristics for balance. Looks like he's done that (how many lifetimes can he count?) already. Since I haven't listed additional Earth desires and values, here they are. You'll see why Earth is such a stabilizing force. And why he's such a good father.
      • Relationships
      • Stability
      • Family
      • Sharing
      • Harmony
      • Loyalty
      • Commitment
      • Diplomacy
      • Involvement
      • Interdependence

  6. I love personality tests. I studied a lot of them in grad school, but I hadn't done the Chinese elements before. My top ones:
    FIRE ARCHETYPE: The Wizard.................................... 10
    WATER ARCHETYPE: The Philosopher......................... 11
    This was interesting in that I'm in love with water -- from ocean to lake to river to my own bathtub. And I am fascinated by fire; in fact, my mystery novel involves arson, and I enjoyed reading about the wonders of fire in my research. I also adore the words Philosopher and Wizard. Cool.
    Now, what does it mean that my types are opposed to one another? Am I a boiling personality? 🙂

    1. No, Julie, luckily you're not boiling or getting your flames doused. What you have, basically, is both sides of the coin working for you. Cool, right? You have the fluidity and ease of Water while maintaining the heat of Fire. When your Water element might tend to withdraw and seek its solitary cave, your Fire element says Yes!, let's go to that party. I'll bet you have times when you're getting ready for a social engagement and wonder, "Why did I say I'll go to this?" Blame your Fire element--go--and have a great time!

    1. Think of the Rabbit, who moves quickly from place to place to find good veggies. Your Earth element helps you desire change while your challenge is wanting things to stay the same. I have a lot of very happy Rabbit friends. Two, in fact, are Earth Rabbits like you.

    1. This really isn't so much about contradictions, Reetta, but more about seeing the balance that these three elements bring to your life through their interplay. The fire element actually "pumps up" some of your water challenges. For instance, water yearns for connections, while passionate fire yearns for fusion. The moderate and help each other to find healthy realtionship with others. Fire lives in the moment while earth desires change. This combination keeps you from being immobilized like many are when confronted with change. The way I see it, you have some good help with balance going on in your life.

  7. Oooh what a fun post! I always love personality quizzes, but maybe because I'm fire lol

    Here are my results and I'm also a monkey, the best sign on the zodiac. Of course.

    WOOD ARCHETYPE: The Pioneer.............................. 12
    FIRE ARCHETYPE: The Wizard.................................... 14
    EARTH ARCHETYPE: The Peacemaker......................... 13
    METAL ARCHETYPE: The Alchemist.............................. 4
    WATER ARCHETYPE: The Philosopher......................... 4

    1. You've got wood, fire and earth nicely balanced and nourishing each other. Lucky you, Sophia, you have only two elements to practice some more with to be in total balance and harmony. You may want to work with metal first, as your earth element will directly help with enriching metal characteristics. Then you can use you new-found metal skills to bring the water element online. Glad you had fun.

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