If you have not read Heartless by Marissa Meyer yet, read this post at your caution. It does contain spoilers, although I tried to avoid as many as I could.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on character arcs or how to write a great character arc. Honestly, I’m still figuring that out myself. But as I was deciding on what book to feature in this month’s Book Analysis post, Heartless came to mind.
Because it’s the month of love. What better book to discuss than one on the Red Queen of Hearts herself?
One of the aspects of Heartless that impressed me the most was Marissa Meyer’s execution of a character arc in the character of Catherine. So, let’s examine this arc and see if we can’t glean a few tips on how to craft a successful character arc.
“I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion—a blind and aimless Fury.” — Lewis Carroll
This quote precedes the story of Catherine Pinkerton, daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, and her descent to fury. But the Queen of Hearts wasn’t always the ball of anger shouting, “Off with their heads!” at every turn.
She started out as a dreamer, a baker, and a lover—someone we can all relate to as she worked hard to turn a dream into reality when all the odds are against her.
Catherine, or Cath, dreamed of opening her own bakery. She and her servant Mary Ann had developed a business plan; they simply needed the building and the finances to launch their business
With Cath already widely known as a talented baker, they’d certainly become the most popular bakery in all of Wonderland. However, Cath’s parents were not keen on her aspirations, preferring her to marry the rich and bumbling King of Hearts. It was no secret he was quite sweet on her, you see.
But right when Cath’s parents think their dream of a royal wedding will come true, the Jabberwocky crashed into the town.
Along with the mysterious Jester.
Jester believed in Cath’s dreams. He was the embodiment of her free spirit that she’d kept locked away for so many years. It was no surprise then that she fell for the intriguing court jester instead of the hiccupping king.
“When pleased, I beat like a drum. When sad, I break like glass. Once stolen, I can never be taken back. What am I?”
The Hatter’s riddle of the heart proved too true for Cath, and from then on, Cath watched her dream crumble around her.
When Cath approached her parents about opened the bakery, the Marchioness was horrified. She believed her daughter to be above such lowly work and fit only to marry the King.
Although disheartened for a time, Catherine bounced back from this upset. Instead of being financed by her parents, Catherine entered a baking contest to earn the money herself. But a spiced pumpkin cake that turns Turtle into a Mock Turtle crushed that idea.
While she continued to fight for her dream, Catherine fell deeper in love with Jest and pulled further and further away from her courtship with the King. But instead of finding happiness with Jest, her heart was battered by those around her.
“Cath lifted her chin and, for the first time, dared to imagine herself a queen.”
Fate had its cruel way and twisted her heart until she became Queen of Hearts—Queen of Fury. As Hatter had predicted with his riddle, Cath’s heart had been stolen by Jest then shattered by Fate.
“She spoke without feeling, unburdened by love or dreams or the pain of a broken heart. It was a new day in Hearts, and she was the Queen.”
If you haven’t had the chance to read it already, Marissa Meyer’s story is a phenomenal read. It brings to life the Queen of Hearts and what she went through before becoming the cruel, unfeeling queen we all know her as.
And this lifelike representation is how we can learn about character arcs. As you may notice from the quick sketch of the story, Catherine’s life wasn’t easy.
If you want your character to change—whether that be a good or bad change—he or she must suffer.
Catherine didn’t just wake up one day and decide that her parents were mean and she would exact her revenge for not achieving her dreams of a bakery and a life with Jest.
Quite the contrary. She worked relentlessly toward her dreams. She tried every possible idea to find herself the financing for her bakery. She did anything to keep away from the King and stay with Jest.
But Marissa Meyer continued to throw conflict after conflict at Catherine until she achieved the change and the end result of the story.
If you want your character to change from selfish to selfless, you must put them through situations that test their selfishness, situations that make your character realize there are things worth more than their own desires. And it won’t just be one conflict or trial either that causes your character to change.
You, the author, must be relentless till that change is achieved. At least in my own life, I rarely learn my lesson the first time I do something. It takes God showing me again and again to learn what He wants to teach me.
The same should be with your characters. They most likely won’t learn their lesson through the first conflict. Put them through their paces and show their slow change throughout the story.
What are some stories you like that have good character arcs? Do you have a character arc in your own story? How did your character change?
As I mentioned above, I’m not an expert on character arcs; however, I’d highly recommend reading K. M. Weiland’s blog posts on character arcs as they were a big help to me: