7 Tips to Writing Immortal Characters

Immortality comes up a lot in fiction.  These timeless beings turn up as villains, heroes, love interests, cursed secondary characters, and everything in-between.  Many people hate a protagonist with this power because it’s seen as a sign of perfection.  They live forever at a perfect age with no physical flaws and an intelligence that allows them to absorb all that time has to offer.  To be fair, one could think a person who has been given immortality would also have the natural ability to evolve with time.  Then again, they are still human in some way, so giving them Eidetic memory too might be going too far.  So, what are some ways to make your immortals work?

  1. Even though they live forever, you should have some way for them to die or be removed from the story.  There needs to be a threat to these characters.  Maybe a special item can undo their powers or another immortal can do the job.  Trapped for eternity can work as well.  This is what happened to the Baron in Legends of Windemere and even Dariana to some extent.  The real limit on her is that she can still be knocked out, injured, possibly killed, or overwork her body by using her powers.
  2. A physical flaw can help in the removal of the ‘perfection’ tag.  A scar or missing body part can be explained as happening prior to immortality or the price.  It doesn’t even have to visible, but be part of a big reveal later.  Maybe the character is ashamed and has found a way to hide it someway.  I will admit that I didn’t really do this with Dariana since she uses her telepathy to limit the attention she gets.
  3. If the immortal is your protagonist then you need to factor in their long life.  They should have a lot of knowledge and maybe get confused at times.  After a couple hundred years, you get your social etiquette mixed up.  Is it still right to high five or is that old news?  What phrases no longer mean what they used to mean?  Even after being in multiple books, Dariana still isn’t sure about her reactions.  She uses old greetings and blessings instead of the more casual interactions of today.
  4. This might be an odd one, but you need to keep in mind that immortals could lose any concept of time.  They could always be late or never know what day it is.  Maybe they even lack the knowledge of the year because they work off a different calendar.  This has mostly comedy effects.
  5. Building off the previous idea, an immortal could have an apathy toward life events like marriages, births, funerals, and other milestones.  A mortal will only have about 100 years to have all of these happen, which gives the more impact.  Somebody who has gone through hundreds of these events will either not care or try to fake it for those around them.  Honestly, there are people my age that have become emotionally numb to life, so immortals would have a higher risk of this.
  6. Like any character, these types should have some kind of goal.  There has to be something they want even after centuries of life.  For example, Dariana wants friends and to see the world instead of being put back to sleep.  There are a few other things that are spoilers, so read The Spirit Well to find out.
  7. Finally: Insanity is always an option.  This explains Yola Biggs and Stephen Kernaghan perfectly.  Dariana . . . read The Spirit Well to find out!

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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25 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Immortal Characters

  1. I like it. They might get involved in some kind of personal research project too. An immortal might drive himself crazy delving into time travel because he feels the need to go back and make amends to a loved one. It should probably be personal and not for the betterment of mankind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. N. N. Light says:

    Great tips, Charles! I find it easier to write Immortal characters than humans. Is that because I wish I was immortal or maybe I already am and I don’t know it yet. 😉

    Like

  3. Jan Hawke says:

    Having role-played an immortal (elf) since 2005, I can tell you that the emotional detachment and/or stagnation is something that probably would happen at some point.
    With my own character, brought up by humans, she had no defences for grief when she had to watch her family and loved ones grow old and die over three generation. In the end she couldn’t take it and had to remove herself from the community she grew up in, only to find herself so isolated she was almost at the point where she could have died of heartbreak and loneliness. Instead of closing down physically, or indeed emotionally, she made the only choice open to her and went to find her own kind where she could safely grow attached to new friends and family without too much chance of losing them far too soon.
    It was culture shock for her though, because she only knew human ways, and so she seemed almost childlike and far too unguarded (think the ice-cool Galadriel) so it still took her a long time to settle in a new place even when surrounded by immortals like her.
    For myself, I think it could get pretty boring living so long, even if you lived through many ‘interesting times’ – unless you at least had a nice support group around you to care for and about you… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Always forget that elves are immortal in some stories. Never was a fan in D&D because it maw them too odd to play for me. They only functioned very well among other elves unlike the other races. Immortals really do work better in groups.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. L. Marie says:

    Great tips, Charles. I can’t help thinking of Odin’s missing eye.
    Yola is such a fun character though she’s unpredictable. 😀

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  5. I think writing fantasy has to be the toughest thing. Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t written an immortal yet but these are great tips to keep in mind. I, too, think there would be a certain aloofness in having lived through all that time and what would be the point without a support group? Of course, the others could be like the Highlander series/movies as well, out to kill each other.

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  7. I think the reason that divine immortal beings live on mountain tops and cloud castles is that they get so tired of watching mortals make the same mistakes day after day and year after year.

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