I’ve been thinking a lot about immortality lately. Not that I’d like to be immortal; that would be terrible. But a lot of characters in books are immortal, and that poses more problems than you’d think.
For one thing, you have to define the limits of their immortality. I know that sounds oxymoronic – limited immortality – but think about it: A character who is untouchable, like Superman without a weakness to green rocks, has little motivation to be careful and think things through. He or she does not care at all about going blindly into any situation. And why should they? They can’t be harmed. But that makes it a little difficult to create any amount of suspense around that character. You know he or she is going to be fine no matter what.
Another thing is that an untouchable protagonist makes for a character that your readers can’t really relate to. When was the last time you looked at Superman and thought, “I know exactly how he feels. I hate it when entire buildings fall on me. It really messes up my hair”?
No worries, though, because your character can still have very human flaws that make him or her more empathetic. That’s not what I want to talk about though. What I want to talk about, as I said, is the possible limits of immortality.
For example: Have you thought about what would happen to an immortal if their head was cut off? If they were chopped up into teeny tiny pieces? Incinerated? Dissolved in acid? Do those things just not touch them? Do they bleed when they’re cut? Or can they simply not be cut?
These are all things that must be established. The reason I’m talking about this is I have several characters in Hellbound who are some form of “immortal.” My protagonist is, for one. As are the protagonist’s father and uncle. But all the immortal characters do have weaknesses. They can be killed in certain situations. It’s just tricky, because most things can’t kill them. So how do you create a sense of urgency? Suspense? When the reader knows that a character is untouchable, it is hard to do these things.
Fortunately, as the author, you control the world you create. You can make exceptions to the rule, create an opponent who has the ability to harm immortals, define the parameters of your character’s immortality. It is all your doing. But you do have to think about those things. It is not enough to say “He is immortal.” You must say, “He is immortal, in that he will live forever, provided that no one ever attacks him with a man-made weapon and cuts his head off which will cause him to die. Other weapons, like guns, have no effect on him because they are made by machines.” And the explanations could go on and on.
That’s all I have to say really. Just wanted to point out to you that immortality is complicated.
Have a comic:
Word of the Day: Parameter (n) – a limit or boundary; guideline.