Characterizing the Immortal

I was wondering if I could give some feedback on this. I find the idea of writing from the perspective of a character who has already lived a very long life interesting, but I was wondering what forms that someone such as that might end up taking considering the influence age could have on them.

Currently, I am under the impression that over time, age caused the MC to distance themselves from people around them. They do not fully connect with the moment and are left with a sense of longing that they do not particularly know how to place. I imagine that the memories they’ve formed are disjointed and rather unhelpful, mostly faded due to lack of interest in actually keeping any of them. People always assume immortality means vast knowledge, but that assumes a dedication of oneself toward a specific pursuit.

I am considering having them slowly unravel their own past, and learn that the reason they have felt as such for so long is due to a loss in their past that they never properly worked through. I was wondering if this would seem like a reasonable progression or if it would be tacky? Constructive feedback or ideas would be very much appreciated!

The Culture of the Immortal

Immortality amongst a race of people is something I also find interesting. I think that it would make sense for races who do not die of old age to have a low sex drive by nature. Similarly, the disconnect from sex would lead them to valuing biological sex less meaning there might be much more freedom in stylistic expression without the traditional feminine/masculine associations to clothing. They might even lack traditional feminine and masculine pronouns all together, as a general rule.

I think a culture that would have developed with such long lives, assuming that they would not have magic to usurp the ravages of time, would probably prefer to build homes underground. Additionally, using parchment or the like will allow for rot to settle if there were a flood or the like, using chisels and stone tablets for records might make more sense as a concrete form of storing information.

I think that, if there is a group of immortals, then visual distinguishers for the age of an immortal would likely carry cultural significance. What these are in particular might shift though, depending on what they value.

9 Likes

I think the idea of immortals is a really interesting one and you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into it. As for how they “age” immortally, the whole lack of sex drive things would depend when in their life they stop aging biologically. Some people experience a lack of sex drive as they get older, but not everyone, so I’m not entirely sure where that comes into play. I’m also not too sure why they might prefer to live underground, except to maybe forget the day and night cycle to have one less reminder of their eternalness in the world.

Also keep in mind that immortality means some of the best and brightest minds would live forever. Imagine if Einstein lived forever. Or Steven Hawking. Imagine the scientific innovations and jumps that we’d have made. Not that there aren’t people to pick up where they left off, but that’s just it. Those people have to learn everything the geniuses of the past already figured out. If those geniuses live forever, and are combined with the forces of other, modern geniuses, no time is lost learning, therefor innovation is made that much faster. All this to say, they could probably figure out a way to store books without mold growing on them.

And honestly, as for how to write the MC, I think you should go with what story you want to write! Me personally, one of the best written immortality arcs I’ve ever seen is from The Sandman.

Sandman Spoilers ahead:

the episode with Hobs is one of the most investing episodes I’ve ever watched. You see this guy go through ups, downs, become rich, get poor, and see what it’s like when he loses his family. But still, even after all that, he never gives up hope that life still has more to offer him. That he got gifted the most precious thing a being could ever obtain; time.

So while I image an immortal character being sad, I also imagine them doing everything they can to keep hope and remember the good along with the bad times, and all the people they’ve met. Maybe they have a book they’ve written every single name of every single person who was ever important to them in. Maybe they have a locket with a small picture of their first love, and while it makes them sad, they remember the lifetime of happiness they got to spend with them too. Or hell, maybe they find another immortal to spend the rest of their days with, and they can actually live in eternal happiness.

I imagine a person in that situation of immortality to try and balance the sadness of loss and being abandoned over and over again with the joy of companionship, because without that they would simply whither away, immortality or not. But that’s just my take on it!

7 Likes

I suspect any lone immortal would dissociate with the human mayflies around them within a few generations. Without peers to connect with and having such a divergent life experience the kinds of knowledge humans value would probably be of little use. After a point humanity would barely be better company than primates.

A society of immortals would be a different story. I like the idea of “reinventing yourself” every hundred years or so to keep things fresh. Staying with one partner for more than a cycle would probably be noteworthy if not downright odd.

2 Likes

Gender expression and celebration (in a affirming sense) of one’s gender aren’t necessarily bound to biological sex and the ability to reproduce, though. Old people - I’m talking about real humans here as a comparison - can and do enjoy having sex, even if it’s not for the sake of producing offspring, and gender affirmation is very important of them, even in old age (the oldest I ever cared for was an old lady of 102 years, and it was incredibly important to her to look pretty and feminine).

So, let’s say in your specific case, the biological sex of this race was binary male-female akin to humans, but because of their longevity, they’d only have a “mating season” and get in the mood so to speak every 500 years - even in that case, it could still be culturally important to them to express their gender in a binary system that directly correlates with their biological sex the rest of the time, or have sex simply because they enjoy it (if it still feels good outside of said mating season). And if they don’t enjoy it that much, because they have a low sex drive to begin with, even then gender could hold cultural importance and significance depending on their society.

1 Like

One of the unexpected discoveries while we examine genetics: The genes of some species that regulate their sex drive also have a proportional effect upon the aging process.

They could also tack in exactly the opposite direction, seeing their genes spread out across all of the human race & treating everyone they meet as a relative.

Indeed, & the result could be an unintentional extreme in the other direction. Consider for a moment that signals to reproductive mates often take the form of over-the-top displays. (Lip stick & blush have always been my favorite example, as they both mimic an involuntary arousal response.) The notion that you have to adopt a superficial appearance for the purpose of attracting a mate could lead to someone you know as lacking gender suddenly getting all dressed up (like how peacocks grow absurd tails during their mating season). If someone wants to get dressed up for mating season the cultural norm could be leaving the sexual expression at home unless you’re trying to signal that you’re on the prowl.

1 Like

If you can get your hands on Lost Odyssey, that offers an interesting perspective and is a great JRPG to boot.

Amusingly I always thought Highlander offered a fairly reasonable take on how they’d comport themselves over time. Of course they had the benefit of knowing they had a potential expiration date, so that colored things.

I suspect a immortal would either succumb to existential despair or would end up like Doctor Manhattan, increasingly feeling alienated from humanity. If immortality is their only power though, more is the pity for them because at least Dr Manhattan could do something about his situation. If so, then I could see them having a very strong will to power, desiring to set up systems where they can move the world to their whims. But even then, if they achieved that, that would surely lose its luster over time.

Ultimately, it probably all ends in the same place: either they find a way to not be immortal or they build a spaceship that shoots them right into the Sun or a black hole and take their chances there. Though that sounds a bit like the plot of the Rush songs Cygnus X-1 and Hemispheres as I write it…

1 Like

With a long enough life i suspect both would be true at some point. I picture it becoming cyclical. After hundreds of years trying to lead their children they become disillusioned and disappear into the wilderness. Only to grow board with the hermit on the mountain life and enjoy the adventure of trying to understand a whole new human society. Which eventually will become dull again.

Another thought I had was the morality question of sex once everyone is your descendant. What if our immortal had a otp early on. Then every 4th generation or so a descendant gets that genetics lottery that reminds them of the original. Would serial monogamy with your own descendants be creepy? Ethical? Romantic?

2 Likes

One thing I really liked about the Dune series was the idea that genetically identical persons were reincarnations of the same person & could access memories of those past lives in particular. The whole idea of reproduction is fraught with in-depth cosmological/theological/ontological/spiritual questions that run parallel to the genetics issues. Like, this is “how do you define a soul” territory.

I guess I just generally find a society that doesn’t value sex and has a rather undervalued view of gender pretty interesting more than anything, and I think there could be a justification within immortality for it. I think it could also have some interesting interactions with a historical setting with mortals who might generally have a more distinctive divide.

I guess immortals would in general become partial to extremes. Whatever fluxes we have in a human lifetime, they might do in a larger scale, for longer, and with greater fervor.

I like the idea of a cyclical ‘peacock’ thing, maybe they had a place they were intended to go in addition for the purpose of courting. Since most of the members of a more mobile race might not be specifically in any city or the like at the time.

I was imagining that they generally have a low sex drive, and low conception rate, otherwise the world would be entirely taken over. I also partially imagined that their memories would go through states of flux where they forget most events save for specific pivotal moments. A kind of refresh? We ourselves don’t remember most days, it’s odd to think that immortals would. I think a lot of things might blur over time due to novelty wearing off.

While gender expression might change, I was saying that as a society they might not have specific expectations for what someone of a given gender or sex is anticipated to wear unlike in historical human settings since it might be less relevant in the day to day. If you aren’t looking to court, your gender doesn’t matter that much to you, and there are no expectations to what to wear, then you probably don’t just stick to the festival clothes for courting. Influences from humans leaking through into their culture could be interesting though.

@Phenrex I seriously hope you’ve watched both The Man From Earth & Zardoz.

There was a movie that came out a decade or so ago about two vampires; the name escapes right now. They were a couple & one of them was suicidal with ennui, & the story was about the other trying to coax their partner back into a love of life. There was some real-world Middle Eastern musician that they worked into the story & had play herself in the movie… if anyone remembers the name of the movie please chime in.

Why? You think they would be good inspiration material? :>

This spoiler discusses the plot of a movie & the work it was based on.

There is a big difference between different works here.

The original The Man From Earth was a short story told through a one-off “golden age” comic about a man who had stopped aging during adulthood because of a natural random genetic mutation. The character walked through the streets of a city on an unassuming day & a construction accident unexpectedly killed him. The story is his life flashing before his eyes & ends with the narrator (possibly divinity or someone in the afterlife) disagreeing with the dead person about the relative value of their life & the importance of how a life ends.

The movie version is only the same in that the main character is a human male who stopped aging during adulthood due to a natural random genetic mutation. The characters discuss a lot of philosophy & the main theme is his desire to be able to live his live as he already was vs. the way technological progress forces societal change. He was born in the paleolithic, & a lot of his personality comes from having been brought up inside of a migratory band of nomads. Eventually society changed & he figured out that he could be treated with hostility because of his difference, so he chose to become closeted. At the beginning of the story he’s realized that, with the rise of big data, he’s going to be noticed, & this may be the last time he can move or reinvent himself. He is currently an archeology professor, so he asks the heads of the departments of his university to meet with him & offers to prove his immortality, then humbly asks them for help. The film is set as a “bottle show” with most of the action in a single room. He’s been living a closeted existence for so long that he doesn’t know how he’s going to live if he has to be outed against his will.

You really shouldn't care if I spoil *Zardoz*, but rules are rules.

Zardoz has a funny name because it’s a portmanteau of “The Wizard of Oz,” which is a book that the main character found in a burned-out post-apocalyptic ruin that he doesn’t know was once a public library. His barbarian community worship a computer as their deity, & reading this strangely titled book lets him deduce that the computer he’s been worshiping isn’t really a god & he should probably try to find out who built the computer & why. He eventually finds out that there is a complicated society of immortal beings who live in a preserved zone under a vast force field dome. Lots of the movie is spent doing worldbuilding about the political factions that have developed within the force field. An example: Some of them are called “Apathetics” & literally see no purpose to life other than physical stimuli. They’ve lived so long that they’ve experienced every sensation, & now they sit motionless in a self-imposed catatonia while they wait for something to kill them. The Apathetics don’t contribute to the story, they’re just there to show some of the strange factions that developed under the force field.

Do not get me wrong; Zardoz is a bad film. If you like picking brains about immortals you will find an entire movie that is nothing but that. There’s hardly a comprehensible plot to be seen.

Zardoz is fantastic. You just need to understand, as you are informed right at the start, that it’s a satire (by way of its namesake and Nietzsche).

One question: did they evolve as immortals, were they created as immortals, or did they develop to that state through magical learning of some kind? That might affect the sex drive question.

An immortal society I developed had rather sexual and hedonistic immortals, but the elves in question have (since their earliest records) had access to easy contraceptive cantrips and STD cures, and abundant magic in general. So while procreation required sex, the reverse was neither true nor presumed (with knock-on effects related to their norms on sex, marriage and family).

I don’t think they themselves would really know either way, but I think magic plays a very low focus in the story if present at all (I think if the immortal could easily use magics than it would remove a lot of stakes throughout the story. Baby gets sick? Healing magic! Baby needs new clothes? Just magic some new ones! Baby is mortal and might get old? Just magic away that mortality!) Etc etc etc

Part of me wonders if I should make the positive immortal human background is from a magical user who exchanges their magic affinity in return for immortality.

Well, if it was a single immortal then they wouldn’t have a “culture” distinct from the humans around them, just feel somewhat marginalized from the dominant culture and not really have others of their kind.

I have a few backgrounds in my story, one of them is of a species of immortals, which is what spurned the discussion and thought in the first place. But not everyone wants to play a non-human race, so there is a background for being human. :stuck_out_tongue:

1 Like

It’s a pretty difficult subject to tackle in the form of interactive fiction. I tackled it in A Kiss from Death by way of montage – years tend to disappear in the blink of an eye, and the main character simply forgets a lot of the details of the day-to-day life. It feels less like the main character lives two thousand years, and more like everyone else only lives for a day.

I use the other main characters to show different sides of the immortals: Molloth uses her longevity to seek control and domination of others but ultimately cannot control what happens to her anyway. Arcy just wants to do her own thing and be left in peace but her very existence inflicts negative externalities on the world and makes peace impossible. Clankers devotes themselves to a never-ending mission that gives them purpose but can’t accept when the mission becomes impossible and everything crumbles down around them. Aursley struggles to reinvent himself after everything he has cared about has died and the only way for him to keep his immortality is to lose everything he loves all over again. Nyeru just does whatever they want, changing their identity constantly and honestly seems to be having the most fun out of any of them, even though forming any lasting connection proves impossible in the end.

I’d highly recommend the single-player tabletop roleplaying/journalling game Thousand Year Old Vampire.

3 Likes

Such a luxurious thread! But why L am hearing “Queen’s” soundtrack for Highlander all of sudden?!?

One case of “mostly” immortal race of immortal beings I really appreciate are the Aeldary from Warhammer 40K. Most specifically their Dark Eldar counterpart.

The idea of ennui and boredom making an entire race of immortals r#$^F&ck the reality itself and turning theirself in a mostly mortal race of “semi” immortal sadistic vampires is pretty fun!

Its like a love child of an involuntary celibarary person and a Hikikomori!

I think that depends a lot on the nature of immortality. Is it “only” the agelessness? A hyper regeneration that technically allows them to be destroyed if enough damage is sustained in a short time? A complete imperviousness to any form of harm or perhaps is there a certain weakness like that of Achilles’? Maybe they reincarnate, steal bodies, or have a phylactery?
Then there is also the cosmology of the universe they are inhabiting. Is there a life after death, gods and devils, heavens and hells? And of course, if your character is the only immortal existing. All of it should heavily influence their mindset.
For example, immortals could decide to become spiritual gurus to normal humans if they were able to go to heaven after their death but if no afterlife existed, they would likely be distant and indifferent. After all, there is not much sense in getting attached to someone that will stop existing shortly.
A lone immortal would likely be obsessed with finding someone similar to them, at least for a few millennia. If that was impossible, they could try to create an immortal, or at least find strong stimuli like drugs potent enough that would destroy any mortal creature.
If they possessed conditional immortality (regeneration or Achilles heel) they would likely defend it desperately, and completely panic when under a real threat. They would see their life as much more valuable than that of a mortal.
In any of these examples, you could go in the opposite direction, especially if you were creating a foil for your MC. The conditionally immortal could seek the thrill of battle, and a lone immortal could decide to search for a way to permanently destroy themselves and in theistic setting, they could decide to become enemies of humanity, either because they hate mortals or want to test them.

1 Like