Michelangelo's David. Photo courtesy of gimundo.com

When I think about fantasy fiction, many times I am obliged to contemplate why I like to read it, write it, immerse myself in it.  I love the feeling of being able to escape from reality.  An alternate world offers me the ability to go places that I could not visit in real life; the fantastic can happen while seeming nearly commonplace, and for just a while, we are able to lose ourselves in another person’s troubles, completely forgetting our own.  On the other hand, this leads into another facet of the gem that is fantasy fiction.  As readers, we tend to attach ourselves to a certain character that is either most like us in personality, or—as is often the case in fantasy—the person we wish we could be the most like.  I find that fantasy fiction just becomes an idealist’s version of the world (s)he wishes we all lived in.  Good is good, bad is bad; black and white are the only two colors on the moral spectrum.  And this is quite appealing to those of us who are often struck by how awful our world can be.  But when I come back through the wardrobe, so to speak, I always seem to have withdrawals—I miss the pristine world where everything is clean-cut ethically.  I get depressed about the state of our world. 

Is this the way fantasy should be written?  I can long to be perfect as much as I want, but I can never always make the right decisions.  I make mistakes; my characters should be no different, unless I am writing about a porcelain doll on a shelf instead of a person.  And perfect characters are annoying.  He might be the perfect hero, but if he’s untouchable, he won’t mean a thing to me. 

So what can be done to breathe life into the marble statues of characters in fantasy fiction?  Physical imperfections?  Emotional/psychological weaknesses?  Putting them out of their element and watching them flounder?  Facing them with an unanswerable dilemma?  What hooks you about characters and stories?