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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40 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. 😉

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  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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  8. Ella says:

    I have a character who’s been alive for roughly three centuries, and lived among mortals up until the mid nineties when he when he into hiding. His name is Akshay (which means ‘forever’ in Hindi). His big thing is every ten years or so he leaves behind everything and everyone he knows, and basically wipes himself off the map. The hardest part of that for him is having to leave behind his friends (or lover, if there is one). He basically breaks the hearts of everyone he loves so it’ll be easier on them later. He pretends it dosen’t bother him, but secretly is a hopeless romantic who cares about people very, very deeply. He has this facade of being very calm, charismatic, and under control, but inside he’s kind of a lonely, anxious mess. He’s also really, really good at lying (which has had both good and bad effects), can be extremely temperamental, and is overall not great at expressing emotion. He eventually falls in love with a mortal man named Dev, and becomes mortal through a gamble with the goddess of Fortune (he has a tendency to attract ancient gods, but this mostly only elicits annoyance)

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  9. Jasper says:

    Hello Mr Yallowitz,
    I would like your opinion of the concept of an immortal character I have in mind to write.

    Basically, the character is cursed with complete immortality after accidentally defying a prophecy (which he had no idea even existed in the first place) and stealing a fragment of one of the world’s gods’ power because he wanted to survive a particular ritual. It definitely doesn’t help his main power is indiscriminate misfortune and the fragment he took causes him to transform into a more monstrous form which he couldn’t control at the start.

    The gods decide to leave him stuck with this immortality because of his defiance of fate, during the first hundred years or so he tried desperately to die only to reform moments later, with the occasional rampage in his monster form and his misfortune power leading to disasters (and giving him an infamous reputation of Harbinger) during some bouts of insanity. During one of such attempts involving starvation, he would meet another immortal, this one of the ageless sort chosen by the gods to serve as a “mortal” representative. At some point, she did take pity on him and took him under her wing so as to try to help him tame his power. And slowly guide him out of his suicidal phases. Overtime he does become more stable, impulses to take the easy way out non-withstanding.

    Closer to the current events, the god whose power he took appeared before him to offer him a chance to break free of his curse. Because he broke one prophecy, the only way to “repair” his chain of fate is to break another one. And on paper the prophecy to break sounds simple enough: he would run from the fangs of familiar darkness.

    In practice, it was easily the worst thing the gods could offer him, his lover and child being associated with the darkness element means either of them could break his curse and kill him off with the caveat of, well, killing him. And given how unlucky he is, he knows some accident is going to happen leading to either killing him and having some unwanted consequences from it. He chooses to try and stay away from his family under the pretense of having to work far away from home with his lover knowing the real reason while his child doesn’t, falling into his suicidal state again. This time, he is searching for someone that isn’t either of his family to break the curse.

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    • Working on my phone, so it’s tough to do a long response. Sounds like his power is bad luck and this resulted in a curse of immortality, which is cool. Is it explained why he initially hated immortality since most assume a person will enjoy it at the beginning? Interesting that he could have a child too. I’m assuming the curse doesn’t transfer to kids. Not sure I understand the ‘darkness element’ either.

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      • Jasper says:

        Q: Is it explained why he initially hated immortality since most assume a person will enjoy it at the beginning?
        A: His power which I call ‘Bad Luck Charm’ causes indiscriminate misfortune and he can’t exactly control it either. That results in a range of events ranging from something mildly irritating like slipping on a patch of wet floor to anything outright disastrous, incidents leading to war for example. And he has experienced a whole variety of painful deaths like snapping his neck by falling down the stairs or catching some kind of plague because of it. His complete immortality is just that, he can’t stay dead unless his curse is broken. He is not immune to pain or ailments, and starvation or dehydration won’t kill him (it leaves him very weak, however). If there’s anything that could be considered a consolation, his corpse collapses into a mystical blue dust and reforms back into a healthy copy of himself in a minute or two.

        Additionally, he claims he didn’t expect himself to take a portion of a god’s power, plus the ritual wasn’t even performed by him in the first place so the punishment was both disproportionate and misplaced. Needless to say, he hates his immortality with a passion for a good portion of his near-thousand years alive. He is also atheist on principle for this reason.

        Q: Not sure I understand the ‘darkness element’ either.
        A: So in-universe it’s generally accepted that there are 9 main elements, Darkness being one of them. The other eight are Light, Fire, Ice, Earth, Wind, Water, Electricity and Null, the last of which being a relative balance of the other eight.

        Every mortal has a slight affinity towards one element (with no immunity to any) and has the potential to awaken to a power based on that element, tentatively called Attunement. Bad Luck Charm, for example, is aligned with Null.

        Hopefully these answers help, and thanks for reading through these!

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      • I was going to ask if the bad luck with as another curse. Interesting how that power appeared, but it’s uncontrollable and a negative. Kind of surprising that it hasn’t killed him prior to being made an immortal.

        Nice twist on him going vengeance like one would expect.

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      • Jasper says:

        I admit I didn’t see the problem that he would have died much earlier, would be kind of an inconsistency. I might justify that it had become more potent thanks to the divine fragment he’s absorbed.

        I kind of enjoy taking different spins on some tropes, especially character concepts for the Big Bads, and give a touch of realism to others, like your good guys’ rebellion actually making everyone’s lives harder because the tyrant raises taxes to get enough money to repair infrastructure, so the common folk are angry at both the tyrant and the rebellion.

        Helps keep things refreshing.

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      • Could be an effect of the power too. It causes bad luck, but protects him from death. Almost like it has a self-preservation function. Would be strange for a power to include offing its host rather quickly.

        Rebellions really do need more examples where they aren’t perfect.

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  10. Jasper says:

    That makes sense. We can’t exactly cripple the main antagonist with life-threatening bad luck, it’ll make him a joke instead of a convincing threat. Maybe it would be better if I have Bad Luck Charm’s effects be relatively minor, but in battle it can potentially turn the tables. Have him fight another person on a roof and watch the latter plummet when they step on an unstable part of the structure, or something to that effect.

    And I agree. You hardly see nowadays a scenario where the usurper is overthrown and killed (because the True King and all that), but the rebellion’s leaders are either inept in leading a nation or incapable of fixing major issues the rebellion caused along the way.

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    • Most stories seem to end as soon as the rebellion wins. As far as the bad luck, I’ve seen a few times how it ends up being bad luck for others and good for the holder. There are versions where this creates a build up of karma that eventually nails the lucky person with a really bad event. So they have to either be careful or find a way to reduce the build up. Honestly, luck powers are both fun and a challenge. My first character in high school actually had those, but I was terrible at them. No downside at all, so he always won.

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    • Jasper says:

      I see, guess I still got to iron out more kinks for that character. Thanks for your input, Mr Yallowitz!

      Like

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