A lot of us writers who dabble or write full-out fantasy or science fiction deal with these little devils. But what does it mean to be immortal? And what does it take to write them?
Marguerite Duras Wrote:
It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.
And BEN FRANKLIN WROTE:
If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.
Us, writers, are pretty obsessed with immortality and mortality, not just as a conceit for our own lives, but also in our work. But immortality is a messy beast in writing.
Immortality lowers the stakes. In our culture, we tend to think of death as the worst possible outcome. It’s the big evil that we often use to justify our own evil deeds. We usually try to avoid it at all costs and it makes the stakes in our writing really high (and therefore the reader really interested) if we put one of our character’s life at risk.
It’s hard to get the reader worried about a character that is immortal.
There are some interesting thoughts on how to deal with immortal characters in fiction here and here and especially here where CLEVER GIRL HELPS breaks down types and degrees of immortality.
Once you’ve read those hints, let’s talk about the big question, which is:
WHY DO WE WRITE IMMORTALS?
So, if immortality is so difficult to write, why do we keep writing immortal characters?
In an interview with Salon’s Sophie Roell, author Stephen Cave says of our obsession with immortality,
It’s a human universal. Among all of the animals, we probably uniquely are aware that we’re going to die. We try to avoid the worst, to keep going one way or another, yet we must live in the knowledge that it is futile – that ultimately, the worst thing that can possibly happen will happen. That all our projects and all our dreams — everything we’re striving for — one day it will all be over. And this is terrifying. So we are very keen to hear any story that can allay this fear and say death isn’t what it seems, and we can just keep on going indefinitely.
Longing for immortality and grappling with our mortality is pretty close to a human universal. It’s something all writers (who are humans) can relate to and therefore are compelled to write about.
So, we do.
And we try to do it well, but it’s hard. When the highest stake of death (of the immortal) isn’t possible, what is the second highest stake you can put in place of that?
- Death of the immortal’s loved one?
- Eternal entrapment?
- Forced to eat uncooked lima beans?
- Success of another immortal that there is past history with?
- Living with your own moral failures like in Doctor Who?
It’s up to you and your character to decide. Decide well! It’s a cool thing to think about for you, your life, and your story. What is the highest stake in your own life? If you say death, what’s the second highest? Sometimes it’s good to put our own brains through the same questions that we launch on our characters.
Next and Last Time Stoppers Book
It’s out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.
People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
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Ebook on Sale for October!
And finally, for the month of July, my book NEEDis on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.
I’m WRITING BARN FACULTY AND THERE’S A COURSE YOU CAN TAKE!
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