When creating characters for a story it’s easy to identify them as just “that (fill in the blank with some kind of mythical being)” and then make up the rest of their traits like they are human, but this leaves out a lot of potential story material. In this article I am going to cover my random thoughts about immortal characters.
- Okay, so if your character was immortal from birth, and their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and a lot of people before them were immortal too, how do they control the growth of a population with a little to no death rate? Having a low birth rate is a good start, maybe the character can only ever have so many so many kids, or maybe not any ever. Maybe there are rituals that prevent over population? Could there be a passing down of the immortality? Like once you hit a certain age your parents pass the gift down to you and take their place in the afterlife? Or maybe there is no passing down, you just kind of sacrifice your family members like an ancient Aztec (or maybe that is how it’s passed down).
- It would make for some interesting family relationships if their great great great great great grandma was still around. How do the older members of the family react to having a new member, are they excited to show them the world that they have lived in for so long? Or would the generation gap be a problem? A generation gap that wide would make for some interesting arguments. I think about the people who have problems with kids who play with cell phones today, would it be worse if the older immortal grew up a thousand years ago instead of just a few decades ago?
- Or maybe immortals are just used to the change and don’t bother with such things as antagonizing cell phone users? Would this also mean that they are generally more understanding with each other and have fewer wars? Like they just kind of see the idea of making a big deal out of anything as a waste of time?
- What happens if an immortal has a kid with a mortal? Will that kid be mortal or immortal? Or will it be kind of in between, like the kid is immune to some things but not others, or would it be like the kid has the potential to live forever as long as nothing interferes (like a terminal illness or getting shot).
- My example for this will be the immortal person getting stabbed, so how will damage be handled? Will they take the damage, but heal up in a couple of seconds? Will the knife hit them as if the attacker tried to stab a rock, like it doesn’t go into them at all? Would they die and then be reincarnated somehow?
Dealing with the changing times
- How does your immortal character handle change? Do they welcome it by now because they figure that it is going to be for the greater good? Do they hate it because history keeps repeating itself?
- Are they more or less understanding when people make mistakes? I know I mentioned this earlier, but I want to touch on it again.
- “It’s no big deal, I’ve seen people make that mistake a hundred times and it always works itself out.”
- “Seriously? Every generation does the exact same thing! Thinking that they’re different from the last, that the outcome will be different for some reason, like they’re more special than everyone else. It drives me insane how so many people can be so stupid!”
- If they are trying to hide the fact that they are immortal, do they look forward to the next time they get to change their identity? Or do they get used to their current one and see changing as a drag? Do they have a list of their favorite names that they plan to use in the future? How many names have they gone through already? Is it so many that they can’t remember? Can they list them all? Do they remember the first name they ever had? What name do they believe is their real name? Is it their first name, or is it another that they gave themselves later on?
- How do they remember certain times in the past? What time was their favorite?
- “That was the era that I was the king of ________, good times.”
- “The twenties? The only thing I can remember about that decade was the pretty blue coat I had… before it got ruined.”
- Would an immortal measure time differently than us? It could get old telling people that you are three thousand four hundred eighty-five years old, like us telling people our age in hours instead of years. What would they call these spans of time that they measure with? How long would the spans be when compared to human years?
- Making the assumption that an immortal being has an insanely good immune system to help keep them from dying, would that make it possible that allergies could affect them differently than other people? I don’t mean like a deathly peanut allergy, but more like the stuffy nose kind of allergy. I kind of imagine their immune system balanced to where it over reacts to any sort of dust horribly enough that they wish they would die from it, but it’s their luck that they can’t. What about an immortal who has to take a giant pile of allergy meds in the morning and wear a medical mask everywhere?
- What happens to an immortal who catches a disease? The symptoms may never show up if they can heal up the damage before it ever becomes visible. Microscopic parasites could abound in an environment where there is always healthy flesh to inhabit and the host they are munching away at never kicks the bucket. Also, even if the person’s immune system could filter out the active bacteria, would it be able to catch the dormant kind that can float around in a normal human’s body for years undetected? I kind of imagine that if there were groups of immortal people walking around today we would banish them like old timey lepers for the fear that they would spread diseases to everyone.
- So viruses can’t replicate themselves, to make up for this, they attach to one of your cells, break into its DNA, and insert its own DNA so that the cell will start producing the viruses. If this happened to an immortal, would that make for an immortal disease? That would be bad.
- How are tumors handled? Would radiation or chemo treatment even work? Tumors are generally caused by your own cells replicating uncontrollably. Cancer could be something that would never go away, and if they had it they would have to regularly have surgery to have tumors removed (if it is even in the form of a tumor).
- Normally you don’t want to write characters that are completely perfect at their skill. Even if they’ve been doing it their whole life, in reality nobody can be completely perfect at anything, however people can still get extremely good at doing some things over time. Does the saying “practice makes perfect” come from old immortals who have been practicing their skill for hundreds of years because they actually have become perfect at it?
- Do they know a lot of languages? Have they figured out techniques to help them pick up new languages quickly? Can they still speak languages that they spoke several hundred years ago, or have they already forgotten them?
- Would an immortal have an extremely good memory? We can remember some things pretty well from our childhood when we are in our old age, so does an immortal have a proportionally long memory range? We humans also forget a lot of things, especially things that happened long ago, so instead do immortals eventually not remember the things that happened past a certain amount of time ago?
- Do they go back to school often to gain new skills? Or just to get a non-expired certification for something they already know? How many different skills have they accumulated by now? Do they act like a know-it-all? Or are they humble about it because they still haven’t learned everything? Do know-it-all mortals bother them?
- Every couple of years scientists discover something new that completely changes everything that they claimed to be true before, would an immortal get sick of hearing scientists who say that they know __________ for certain, because that “fact” gets changed every hundred years?
- Is there any way for them to become mortal? Will this method(s) just make them vulnerable or will they die from it? What are the conditions for staying immortal?
- If it just makes them vulnerable, would they die quickly anyways from of all the diseases they have accumulated (or some other reason)? How long will they have after becoming mortal before they die?
- Can they age? Is dying of old age a valid way for them to go out? Like they won’t be hurt by getting stabbed, but after several thousand years will they start to show the effects of aging? I know technically this would mean that they are not really immortal, but in your story could immortal just mean a really really long life span? From the perspective of a human who would live an average of about eighty years, I could kind of see them calling someone with a several thousand year lifespan an immortal, even if they don’t mean it literally.
- So can your immortal character feel pain? Can they even feel anything at all (like the texture of something they touch)? I bring up this topic because I used to think about it a LOT before I knew how pain and touch actually worked. For the longest time my immortal characters would either feel pain and touch like a normal person or feel absolutely nothing at all, this is because I never did any research and I thought that both the of the sensations were controlled by the same receptors. Now that I have more knowledge about the topic, I thought I should share it. Touch receptors and pain receptors (called nociceptors) are separate, this means that it is possible that my immortal characters could not feel pain, but still be able to feel the texture of a piece of cloth. I don’t know if this info matters to anyone, but I’m including it because I was ridiculously excited when I found this out.
- Do they have a favorite past identity? Do they like to talk about their past identities, or would they rather leave them in the past?
- How many times have they gotten married? Was each relationship equally special or do they have a favorite?
- If your immortal changes their identity every couple of years, were they ever someone in the past that became famous “after they died”? Like they used to be known as Shakespeare way back then, but now they are Billy Bob the English teacher who laughs at students struggling to understand his writings made from so long ago. Do they get offended when people say that they aren’t a fan of the famous person they used to be?
Reaction to death
- Of course they’d be sad when their mortal friends pass on, but how do they cope? Are they numb to the emotional pain of death by now, or does it still hit them hard every time? Do they avoid mortals for the fear that they’ll only end up watching them die eventually?
- What is their reaction to another immortal dying? Maybe it’s their mentor who has lived hundreds or thousands of years longer than them and was the only one that had been around for their whole life. They might be used to only having a human friend for a short time, but how different would it be to see someone who has been around for such a long time, someone who contained so much experience, wisdom, and stories, to just be gone?
There is a lot more to adding an immortal character to your story than just saying that they’ll live forever. A lot of things can factor in to how they came to be this way, what the conditions are of them staying that way, and everything in between. Of course I didn’t cover everything, but I think it is a good start. If you know of something good that I left out, let me know in the comments!