In How to Write Character Reaction Patterns, I made up an example of a Type 8 character going through a complete 6-step character arc.
But can we find this same pattern in real Hollywood movies?
Of course we can.
Let’s take a close look at the title character in Disney’s Maleficent.
I’ll be going into spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen Maleficent yet, you might want to check it out first.
The screenplay is by Linda Woolverton, whose credits include Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. She’s one of the best writers in the business, and really knows what she’s doing when it comes to these kinds of fairy tale movies.
Any writer could learn a lot by studying how she handles her characters.
Before we dive deep into that, let’s review a bit about the Enneagram. It’s a model of human behavior that organizes personalities into nine types.
In Maleficent, the title character is a Type 8 Leader.
She also has some characteristics of a Type 9 Diplomat, which means that is her “wing.”
In Enneagram parlance, that makes her an “8w9,” or an eight with a nine wing.
You see, the circle of the Enneagram is actually a spectrum of personality types.
Most people will not be a pure type, but instead will tend to favor one of the neighboring types, or “wings,” the types next to theirs on the circle.
In Maleficent’s case, she is a Leader first, but leans a bit toward being a Diplomat, also known as a Peacemaker.
The Leader Type
What do we know about Type 8 Leaders?
- fear being controlled
- want to control themselves and others
- can be great protectors and leaders
- tend to suppress their emotions
- are self-reliant and self-confident
- can become obsessed with power
- have problems with anger
- can become ruthless and vengeful
Maleficent is an excellent example of this type.
Her character arc goes through all 6 steps in the character reaction pattern for a Type 8 Leader.
The 6-Step Pattern
When confronted by a major life stress, characters will tend to “act out” as a different type than their core character type.
For a Leader, there is a 6-step pattern.
It starts at Type 8 and returns to Type 8 — but at a higher or lower level of morality.
You can see this pattern by following the arrows:
Following the arrows, the pattern is: 8, 5, 7, 1, 4, 2, and back to 8.
So here are 6 steps in Maleficent’s character arc, from a Type 8 Leader to:
- Type 5 Observer
- Type 7 Adventurer
- Type 1 Reformer
- Type 4 Artist
- Type 2 Helper
- Type 8 Leader, but at a higher moral level
This may sound complicated, but you’ll get the hang of it as we go through the example.
And with practice, it can become second-nature.
So let’s see how this pattern works in Maleficent.
Protector of the Faerie Realm
At the beginning of the story, Maleficent is a young, happy faerie in an enchanted realm known as the Moors.
She is a natural-born protector.
When a human peasant boy, Stefan, wanders into the Moors, Maleficent goes to confront him.
He has stolen a rock.
She makes him return it.
Over several years, Maleficent and Stefan grow infatuated with each other.
But then they drift apart.
Because Stefan stops coming to visit her.
As an adult, Maleficent is the protector of the Moors.
When the human king, Henry, launches an attack on the Moors, Maleficent successfully leads the defense.
King Henry is fatally wounded, but before he dies he promises his kingdom to whoever kills Maleficent.
Stefan is a Type 3 Achiever, ruled by his ambition.
He grew up in a barn, but wants to be king.
His character arc has a 3-step pattern, from a Type 3 Achiever to:
- Type 9 Diplomat
- Type 6 Questioner
- Type 3 Achiever, but at a lower moral level
He is the villain.
The Type 3 Achiever’s dominant fear is the fear of being worthless.
They strive to prove their worth.
They suppress their emotions to achieve their goals.
Under extreme circumstances, they will do anything to get what they want, even if it means deceiving the ones they love.
This is exactly what Stefan does.
He goes to Maleficent, and says, “I’ve come to warn you. They mean to kill you. King Henry will stop at nothing. Please, you have to trust me.”
Any character who says “trust me” is immediately suspect.
Sadly, Maleficent hasn’t yet learned that rule.
The Narrator tells us, “She forgave Stefan his folly and ambition.”
Ambition, of course, is the key to Stefan’s character.
He drugs Maleficent with a sleeping potion, and is about to kill her, but can’t quite bring himself to do it.
Instead, he cuts off her wings, and brings them back to King Henry, claiming that Maleficent is now dead.
He tells the dying king, “I shall do my best to be a worthy successor, Your Majesty.”
He has betrayed his love to prove his worth.
The Wounded Recluse
Maleficent wakes in pain, and discovers that her wings are gone.
When a Type 8 Leader is under a major stress, they go to the dark side of Type 5, the Observer.
They may become reclusive, to lick their wounds and come up with a plan.
This is exactly what Maleficent does.
She retreats to her dark castle, all alone.
A raven comes to visit her, but the now-wingless Maleficent can’t bear the company of any creature with wings.
She blows in the raven’s face, to chase him away.
The Dark Queen
Maleficent comes up with a plan.
She will be the dark queen and get her vengeance.
Now she moves from Type 5 Observer to Type 7 Adventurer.
Adventurers are risk-takers.
They fear being deprived, and escape their inner pain by acting out in the world.
Having lost her wings, Maleficent fears a life of deprivation.
She escapes her inner pain by taking risks in the form of vengeance (the dark impulse of the Leader type).
Maleficent leaves her dark castle and rescues the raven, Diaval, who has been trapped by humans.
She magically removes Diaval’s wings and makes him human.
He becomes a shape-shifter, but under Maleficent’s control.
She is still a protector, but is acting out of her dark side.
Now, instead of being the moral protector of a free realm, Maleficent is the master of a minion.
Diaval spies for her, and discovers the truth about Stefan.
She realizes, “He did this to me so he would be king.”
In a wild rage (a potential problem with Type 8 Leaders), she screams, and green flames shoot into the sky.
Obsessed with power, she becomes the Dark Queen.
The faerie realm, like her heart, grows an impenetrable wall of thorns.
The Reluctant Diplomat
Stefan is now king, and married, and has a brand new child, Aurora.
Maleficent learns of this, and interrupts the christening ceremony to deliver a curse:
When Aurora turns 16, she will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a death sleep.
No power on Earth will be able change the spell.
Stefan, an Achiever, is now under a major stress.
When under stress, a Type 3 Achiever acts out as a Type 9 Diplomat.
So King Stefan, who cannot hope to defeat the Dark Queen, tries diplomacy.
He begs her to spare the child.
Maleficent grants him one hope: the princess can be woken by true love’s kiss.
But Maleficent knows there is no such thing as true love, so this is merely a twist of the knife to her false lover, Stefan.
Defeated, King Stefan becomes increasingly paranoid.
The Narrator tells us, “As the days went on, Stefan darkened, further consumed by paranoia and vengeance.”
This is the dark side of the Type 6 Questioner.
He orders all the spindles in the kingdom burned, and sends his infant daughter Aurora into hiding.
Alone in a dark room, the king fears Maleficent’s return: “She’s coming.”
Maleficent’s vengeance against King Stefan is a Pyrrhic victory.
She has won power.
But lost love.
Unsatisfied with the emptiness of her life, she moves from Type 7 Adventurer to Type 1 Reformer.
Reformers are, among other things, judgmental, and Maleficent begins expressing this trait.
When the king sends baby Aurora into hiding, Maleficent finds the baby in a secluded cottage.
She says, “It’s so ugly, you could almost feel sorry for it.”
Of course, Maleficent cannot yet admit any such feelings, even to herself.
Her feelings are safely locked away.
She says to the smiling infant, “I hate you, Beastie.”
Of course, Maleficent is really passing judgment on herself.
She hates herself.
Without wings, she thinks of herself as a Beastie.
She now projects these feelings outward, onto the child, because to acknowledge her true feelings would risk losing control of herself and her world.
It is now clear that Maleficent’s inner struggle is between her sense of control and her banished feelings.
When Maleficent hears the baby crying, the queen complains, “It’s going to starve with those three looking after it,” referring to the three bungling faeries sent as Aurora’s guardians.
This is Maleficent being a perfectionist, a reformer.
The three faeries aren’t good enough for Aurora, so Maleficent must step in and do the job the right way.
So she sends the raven to feed the infant with flower nectar.
Maleficent is torn between wanting to kill Aurora and wanting to protect her.
This is shown when the queen tempts Aurora with a butterfly, and leads the little girl toward the edge of a cliff.
“Oh Look,” Maleficent says to Diaval, “the little beastie is about to fall off the cliff.”
But Maleficent saves the girl.
The faerie queen is not totally evil, but is still tempted by her darkest impulses.
When Aurora grows up and meets Maleficent, the queen declares, “I don’t like children.”
But when the girl leaves, the queen is threatened by tears.
The Fake Fairy Godmother
Maleficent brings the girl into the Moor, allowing Aurora inside the wall of thorns.
Aurora thinks everything is beautiful, including Maleficent, who she mistakes for her fairy godmother.
Now, instead of correcting the girl, like a Type 1 Reformer, Maleficent plays along, like a Type 4 Artist.
But Aurora’s happiness is a threat to Maleficent’s emotional control, so the queen interrupts the girl by putting her to sleep.
Rejecting the joy that Aurora offers.
But Maleficent continues to act as if she is a good person, a moral protector, a fairy godmother.
This begins to bring out Maleficent’s true feelings.
Watching Aurora get into a mud fight with faerie creatures, Maleficent lowers her guard and allows herself a smile.
At first it’s only a hint of feeling—at seeing a young beauty covered with mud—but it is a crack in the wall.
But then Maleficent gets hit with mud.
And Diaval laughs.
How will the evil queen react?
Instead of raging, Maleficent plays along.
She throws mud at her servant.
Yes, it’s a small step, and she retaliates against her servant, but
this time it’s not out of anger.
It’s all part of the game.
Aurora has changed Maleficent.
Maleficent now wants to save Aurora from the curse.
She acts out as a Type 2 Helper.
“I revoke the curse,” she commands. “Let it be no more.”
But it doesn’t work.
Because no power on Earth can change it.
The curse stands.
Maleficent is going to lose the only joy in her life.
She looks on as Prince Phillip meets Aurora, but Maleficent doesn’t believe the prince can save the girl.
“True love’s kiss?” the queen says to Diaval. “Have you not worked it out yet? I cursed her that way because there is no such thing.”
She doesn’t believe in a power greater than herself.
Not even—and especially not—love.
Then Aurora discovers the truth about her own past, and about Maleficent, and she confronts her fake fairy godmother: “You’re the evil that’s in the world. It’s you!”
Aurora runs away, to go back to her unknown father, the king.
The Enlightened Leader
Maleficent began as a Type 8 Leader with a Type 9 wing, which means she has some traits of the Diplomat.
The dominant fear for a Type 9 Diplomat is the fear of separation, or the fear of loss.
Maleficent is now afraid of losing Aurora.
Her fear of separating forever from the girl she has grown to love now overrides her fear of losing control.
Maleficent begins acting again as a Leader with a Diplomat wing.
She abducts Prince Phillip and hurries to the castle to save Aurora.
But she is too late.
Aurora falls into the death sleep.
Upon reaching the castle, Diaval warns Maleficent that they won’t get out alive.
Maleficent replies, “Then don’t come. It’s not your fight.”
She frees her minion—voluntarily gives up power and control over him.
Now Maleficent must in fact become the person she was pretending to be — Aurora’s fairy godmother.
Only she can protect Aurora now.
The true test to see if Maleficent has completed her character arc comes after Prince Phillip fails to wake Aurora with a kiss.
Maleficent openly expresses her feelings:
“Sweet Aurora, you stole what was left of my heart. And now I’ve lost you forever. I swear no harm will come to you as long as I live, and not a day shall pass that I won’t miss your smile.”
She kisses the girl on the forehead, and Aurora wakes. “Hello, fairy godmother.”
Maleficent’s character arc is now complete.
But what of the king?
The Mad King
King Stefan’s paranoia has only deepened.
He is now a mad king, muttering alone to Maleficent’s stolen wings, and refusing to visit his dying queen.
In order to redeem himself, King Stefan must make peace with Maleficent, by going back to a Type 9 Diplomat.
Instead, he completes his downward arc by returning to the dark side of the Type 3 Achiever, and chooses to fight her at all cost.
When Maleficent defeats him, she makes the moral choice to spare his life.
“It’s over,” she says.
But the king is still mad. Giving up his last chance for redemption, he attacks Maleficent and falls to his death.
So the story has taken Maleficent on a grand tour through all 6 steps in her character arc, from a Type 8 Leader to:
- Type 5 Observer
- Type 7 Adventurer
- Type 1 Reformer
- Type 4 Artist
- Type 2 Helper
- Type 8 Leader, but at a higher moral level
She has given up her need for control, and opened up her heart to love.
Now, as a Type 8 Leader with a Type 9 Diplomat wing, Maleficent unites the kingdoms of faeries and humans.
The Narrator tells us, “Maleficent brought down her wall of thorns and took off her crown. And she invited Aurora to see how the Moors had been once, long ago, when Maleficent was just a child and her heart was bright. For now, it was again.”