Today's imperfect hero is Tristan Vazante, brought to you by the author of Artemis Rising, Cheri Lasota -
When my dear friend Gemi asked me to post about my “imperfect hero” Tristan Vazante, I thought: What a brilliant idea! We adore our fictional heroes as we read them and write them and daydream about them. Yet, oftentimes, we gloss over their imperfections and impatiently await the story’s happy ending—something we wish for ourselves vicariously through our characters. So much of how stories affect us comes down to reader expectation. Most genre fiction “requires” a happy ending (even series books) despite the sufferings and betrayals we put our characters through. But if we only wrote perfect characters, where would the story be?
We all go through experiences of deep betrayal and hurt in our lives, usually at the hand of those we love most. And much of what draws us to fiction is the ability to see how others deal with the problems we have had. How do they survive pain, cruelty and abuse and come out stronger than ever? Just as our dreams let our subconscious work out problem-solving situations, I attest that fiction does the same thing in our waking hours, albeit with a little more sense!
Fiction may be fantasy, but it often explores the most raw and universal truths about the dark side of humanity. When we read, we work on these societal problems within the context and safety of a world that does not exist. This helps us to process situations we may not be able to face otherwise. Besides entertainment, fiction has had the power to move us to action within our own lives. It empowers, enlightens and reveals. The pen truly is mightier than the sword!
My young Azorean Islander Tristan Vazante is an amalgam of many different people: the Knight Tristan of Cornwall (Arthurian legend), the Greek God Alpheus (to add a bit more of a dark side), pieces of several different beloved characters from other novels and films, and even parts of men I’ve known throughout my life. Most importantly, I needed to make sure that his personality and beliefs matched the time period and location in which he lived (1880s Azores Islands): deeply religious, kind and welcoming, salt of the earth.
That’s quite a patchwork quilt of a character, eh? This was all quite purposeful, because I knew my tendency was to protect him from harm, as he was my favorite character in the book. When I create any character, there are a few specific characteristics I give all of them before I can really get a sense of who they are. Here were Tristan’s:
• Greatest strength: self-sacrifice
• Greatest need/desire: the heroine, Arethusa, of course! =)
• Childhood trauma: loss of mother
• Deepest secret: his origins
• Fatal flaw: lack of loyalty
Tristan’s traits needed to both compliment and contrast with my heroine’s characteristics, so the characters could attract and repel each other at different points in the story. Early on in drafting Artemis Rising, Tristan’s main flaw was that he had no flaw. So I worked hard at creating a more complex background and personality for him.
In the end, his fatal flaw—lack of loyalty—tested the characters’ love right down to its foundations. The scene in which it is most forcefully illustrated appears to touch my readers deeply. Could this be perhaps because they recognize and remember such pain in their own lives? Certainly that scene fulfills that purpose for me. I remember, too, how difficult that scene was to write. It brought me to tears that day and it still does when I re-read it. And for some readers it does the same. There is a catharsis in seeing our own experiences laid bare in the life of another, fictional or otherwise. It helps us make sense of the madness and frailty of human nature and accept it for what it is.
Later on Tristan’s loyalty is tested once again. And this brings me to an important point. Writers seem to know inherently that if a character fails his first test, he’ll need to be tested again. The second time, a hero has to learn from his previous mistake. Or if he doesn’t, he becomes more of an anti-hero.
The beauty in Tristan for me is that he is always a hero, despite his imperfections. He has a moment of weakness—and it’s big one—but it doesn’t destroy his honor permanently. For me, he represents the epitome of hope: despite our flaws we can still be redeemed. This is such an important message for me personally. He reminds me of this every time I think about him. And isn’t that a mark of a good character? You remember him long after the book ends. Here’s hoping he nestles in your heart as much as he did mine. *sigh*
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Thanks so much for sharing about Tristan, Cheri!