Nov 12 2008
When I’m reading a novel manuscript, immortal characters make me roll my eyes.
1. Immortals are usually angsty and/or Mary Sues. If the character likes being immortal, he’s probably a Mary Sue because he has an incredible gift. If he doesn’t like being immortal, he’s probably an insufferable wangstball. “I’m so bored! Everyone I’ve ever loved is dead.” Boohoohoo.
2. Far too many stories try to surprise readers by suddenly revealing that some character is actually hundreds of years old. Ick! This secret origin story is unconscionably cliche.
3. It’s cliche, particularly in fantasy.
4. An immortal’s backstory is usually unwieldy.
5. Authors usually make characters immortal to suggest that the character is worldly, wise, accomplished, sophisticated and/or experienced. It’s rarely successful. If anything, an immortal will seem less accomplished because he’s had more time to do whatever he’s done.
6. Most authors don’t put in enough effort to make their immortal characters sound like they’re actually old. Immortal characters that sound like generically young twenty-somethings are kind of annoying. Ahem. An incredibly old character should probably have a significantly different voice, interests, mindset and lifestyle than someone who is much younger. Also, if your character is hundreds of years old and still goes to bars and nightclubs, he may inadvertently come off as a perpetual juvenile, like a forty-something that frequents frat parties.
7. It’s much harder to give an immortal character a sense of purpose. Generally, they tend to drift around doing things that don’t add up to very much.
8. Most young authors have trouble writing older characters. That’s not a crippling problem, if your protagonist is pretty young himself. However, if your character is incredibly old, that will draw a lot of attention to how well you can do older characters. It would be bad enough if a 25-year-old sounded like he was 15, but it would be intolerable if he were 250-going-on-15. Some authors try to explain why the 250-year-old sounds like he’s 15 by saying that the character’s species matures very slowly. Usually that explanation isn’t very successful.