1. CommonGoods
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    CommonGoods Senior Member

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    Eternal life (and what it does to a character)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CommonGoods, Feb 12, 2009.

    Well, the title pretty much says it all; how would a character deal with eternal life? A story I've been working on contains a whole host of 'endless' (people who have eternal life), and I was wondering on your views on the topic.

    Please mind that eternal life here means that they can't die from old age. 'Most' of them can still die from being killed (car accident, being shot, etc. etc. etc.).
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, the novel I'm working on centers on two such eternals. The original short story I began with, Neverending, is in my blog.

    The short story is too rushed, and there are too many elements I wanted to address but just didn't fit into the short story. I wrote a sequel, Destiny's Daughter, but that was even more crunched. Thus, the novel project.

    Many writers have taken this theme and have run with it. I don't claim that my version is better or worse, or even unique, but it is mine. :)
     
  3. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    Vampires (especially elder vampires), the Immortals from Highlander, the Elves from Middle Earth, Zelazny's Amberites--they all have eternal life, in essence, and I think they share one thing in common. They look at the big picture and they don't rush things. A project might take them decades or centuries to complete, which is fine because in the grand scheme of things, what's 10 or 20 years? What's 100 years? What's 500 years?

    Another thing they have in common is the eternal struggle. The Highlander immortals are kind of an exception, but with vampires, Elves, and Amberites, I think they see struggle and conflict differently than mortals do. Final death is not as satisfying as one-upping enemies. If you kill your enemy, you will have nothing to do for the next millennium. It's better to play 'chess' with your opponent until the end of time. At least it keeps things interesting.
     
  4. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    For me, it depends. Is their immortality part of their normal lifespan or are they a human or some such creature gifted/cursed with it?

    There's plenty of material out there to look at; tons of vampire material, movies like Highlander, books like Tuck Everlasting, and video games like Lost Odyssey. The latter was a little interesting since their take on immortals was that they are surprisingly well adjusted to living for so long - to the point of marrying normal humans and having children - both of which they would definitely outlive... which bugged me to no end, but that is indeed the way it was written...
     
  5. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    This thread reminds me of the Spanish saying….

    "The devil knows more because he is old than because he is the devil"

    With that said, one effect should be a superior knowledge about the workings of things; especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
     
  6. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Um, well, the best thing to do might be to ask other people "How would YOU act if you were immortal?" That way you avoid boring angsty self-pitying cliche characters.

    For example: Unless it's specified otherwise, time will still pass at the same mental rate for them. So they'll still get bored waiting in line for fifteen minutes, even though they may live many millenia.

    Some of them will be successful, and will use their past success to keep building up and up. Some of them will be failures - due to poor personality traits, laziness, procrastination, stupidity, racism. Some of them will have trouble adapting to the modern world. Imagine an immortal who was raised in Germany in the 1930's - he may have been taught to hate Jews and dark-skinned folk and East Asians, and may be somewhat bewildered when he has to interact with businesspeople nowadays, many of whom are not white males.

    Many immortals will become really, really good at the things they do. They say that practice makes perfect and that it takes ten years of doing something before you're a real master. Imagine someone who has practiced Tae Kwon Do for ninety years or more? Imagine someone who has taught for a hundred years, and really, really knows how to be a good communicator and instructor. Imagine someone who's been a brain surgeon for forty years.

    By the same token, many of these folks will move around infrequently. Would you really want to spend a hundred years living and working in New York? Most of us would prefer a change in scenery or in career every fifty years or so. Immortals wouldn't be much different, I think.

    Some of them are more likely to be cautious. They know that if they mangle a hand or a leg, they're stuck like that forever. A few of them probably have interesting collections of scars and a lot of neat stories to tell.

    They're unlikely to be on the far left politically. Too much experience, too much moving around and exposure to new ideas. Similarly, they won't be on the far right. How could they be, having met so many neat people and lived through so many things?

    They may have legal troubles. Bad credit can follow you for a long time. The government may not know about immortals. Certainly the general populace doesn't unless this is an alternate world.

    Could you imagine a world where estate taxes were levied on immortals every 75 years, just to stop them from accumulating "unfair amounts of money and land"? I could. I could easily imagine voters getting ticked off at immortals because it's "unfair" that immortals live so long.

    But I can't imagine that immortals would generally stay single and avoid love. So they'll outlast their partners. So what? You do realize that men live shorter than women on average, right? And that women tend to be younger than their partners when they marry? Women already expect to outlive their partners a significant amount of the time. This hasn't led to massive abandonment of marriage on the basis that they'll outlive their spouses. So if it doesn't happen in real life, for the love of tiny cute koalas, don't make your immortal characters idiots angst-ridden-dummies the sort of people who say "Woe is me! Anywhere I work, I will outlive the company! Anyone I marry, I'll outlive! My children have a nontrivial chance of dying before me! Boo hoo hoo hoo!" *cries*

    Me? I'd buy a rundown house and improve it over the years, saving up money all the way. And I'd write as many books as I could, and do bio research, and marry my significant other without worrying about what might be in a hundred years.

    Them's my two cents.
     
  7. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, "eternal life" means eternal history. Such a person would witness the unfolding of history before them...so consider history as your guide to that character's interaction with life. For example, in pre-history times, humans were nomadic -- followed herds as they engaged in seasonal migrations. Then, early civilization began in fixed location clans and was quickly followed by evolution of larger regions of social control; villages, cities and nations. Remember, travel back then was limited to horseback, at best, so very few people would have "seen" the pyramids being built unless they grew up in that region.

    As societies advanced into sailing ships, early science/engineering feats, and growing sophistication in weaponry, clashes between distinct societies were inevitable. Your character(s) saw ALL of this. How would those memories effect him or her?

    If I was writing an immortal, I would select a general region (say Europe or North Africa) and anoint the character with childhood/character-building memories largely from the history of that region. Then, I would draw upon his/her reservoir of knowledge to dictate current behavior...which might sometimes be quite contrary to how a "non-eternal" might think.
     
  8. delhi
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    delhi Member

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    Something else to take in account:

    Immortals don't master one skill, but lots of them: even dedicating a century for each is a lot for us, and if you have so much time, you can spend it doing many different things, changing your mind; they learn about many cultures, while we have a hard time just understanding our own.

    Mysteries of life we solve as time passes, questions we answer as we mature, they have already answered them! Do they remember, is the question. What memories do they keep? They saw the pyramids being built, what importance did they give it to them then? How many times have we seen something and forgotten it, ignoring how much it mattered? And with centuries of memories in our heads, how could that be?!

    I usually wonder why in some movies and books immortal beings are as mature when they are fifteen as when they are two hundred or a thousand and five... They probably have much greater worries than mere mortals, they probably don't rush into answers, maybe they don't care what the meaning of their existence is, or they have lots of hypothesis. By the way, how would they celebrate their birthdays? They must lose the count.

    Furthermore, if they have met people for centuries, and spoken billions of times, can't they almost predict how someone will react? At least, they think it faster. It was mentioned earlier, practice makes perfection. Practice in thinking, in reading faces, in understanding people! You wouldn't fool them easily. They probably realize what you feel before you do. They must multiply huge numbers as if they were counting with their fingers.
     
  9. CommonGoods
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    CommonGoods Senior Member

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    Great feedback guys, really great. I didn't think about the whole "mastering a skill" thing yet, thanks for pointing that out to me. Kudo's to you all. I guess I better dust of those history books and dig into Nazi Germany and the French Revolution (times in which two of my main Endless' grew up). Yeah, they're pretty young for people with eternal life.

    Kudo's to you all.
     
  10. XenoZiden
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    XenoZiden New Member

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    What you fail to think about is the mental anguish of watching as those closest to you age and die. Wives, Husbands, Children, Grand-children. They'd all grow old and die while you never age a day.

    You above point that woman marry "knowing" that they will likely outlive their partners, is also defeated by the fact that if this case you would know that every day together we both age. Not Aging while your spouse wrinkle, wither, and slowly dies beside you would be excruciating I'd think. Not only from your own View, but if you think of what they must be going though...

    All that said, If I were to have Eternal Life It would take a lot to make me make someone go though that kind of mental anguish.

    But as our conflicting views show each person has his own opinion, each person would react differently to Eternal Life. Some would proclaim themselves as a "prophet" of some kind. Others may as you stated horde large amount of personal wealth of the ages for no other reason than to do so.


    With that I'll go to a different area, Eternals in groups. In groups eternals in groups would make decisions slowly. Taking many years to make decision we may make in a week. So bear in mind that eternals would not breed more than one every couple decades most likely, and the courtship would likely be as elongated. Likely they'll have a more council of equal in political matters. With possibly their entire group having equal sway in matters.

    Depending on their age they may have different ways of thinking of things in the world. Someone born during the Second World War and raised by a nazi family would likely still have those idea in them by now. While their idea behind it may have diminished with a long life, they are likely just as beholden to the ideal instill within them at their young age and they may come to the front in emotional times
     
  11. Enslaved
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    Enslaved New Member

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    I really liked the immortal being that is portrayed in the game planescape torment.

    He lived a lot of lives but after each lifespan he forgot most, if not everything about it. That resulted in a different persona each time, depending on people and outer circumstances he met.

    It's like, your body may be immortal, but your mind is not.

    Dunno if that idea would fit into your novel though.
     
  12. ZionsRodeVos
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    ZionsRodeVos New Member

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    I would think that a person that was born and raised knowing he/she was immortal would be different than a person born not knowing and finding out later.

    That person would have to go through many adjustments and a lot of trial and error in their first century or two and so I would think that person would marry the first time not knowing that he/she would not age while their partner did. Depending on if the person is convinced he/she will live forever or just extra long and how he/she reacts to the loss of his/her first spouse would determine if he/she chose to marry again.

    The person could take extreme joy in watching over children, grand children, and great grand children and keeping his/her descendants safe and being part of their life even if they didn't know he/she were an ancestor.

    It is possible that this immortal person would move every twenty or thirty years in order to make so no one learned he/she was immortal. There are people that might try to exploit such a person, specifically scientists who'd want to keep him/her around until they discovered why he/she was immortal and able to make themselves immortal.

    I am mostly covering things that I thought of that didn't seem to be stated already as I also agree with a lot of what has been said that immortals would feel no rush to make decisions, would likely be able to read people easily, would be difficult to take advantage of, and would become very skilled in many areas as time passed and likely would surpass the skill of any other non immortal in the areas the immortal chose to practice for more than the life span of a non immortal.

    If the immortal can die and did not want to die then he/she would likely be more cautious and if he/she were tired of life then he/she would be more reckless and not care.
     
  13. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    What a person with immortality does depends greatly on the character and what goes on in his/her life. I'm writing a story with quite a few immortals too.

    Immortals may eventually try to kill themselves out of boredom of life, but some may want to spend and eternity observing the constant changes of the world. Those who are into romance are probably more likely to kill themselves or live in depression unless their partner just happens to be immortal too. An evil monarch would perhaps enjoy eternally ruling a kingdom, or maybe grow weary of the same routines everyday.

    So character and interests has alot to do with what happens.
     
  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    To provide some possible insight into the question posed, I've a youtube clip from the SF series, Babylon 5. It is a discussion Lorien has, the first sentient being, billions of years old, discussing immortality and the illusions that those beings that are mortal have, such as love, and how they should embrace them.

    The clip is about 3 minutes, with the last minute probably the most focused on what is being discussed in this thread.

    Lorien explains it all (life, death, love, etc.)

    Another aspect might be added with HIGHLANDER-WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER, sung by Queen. The scenes from the movie in the clip have the dialogue removed, which adds to the idea and first experience at losing a loved one by someone immortal, but I think it may help too, in the foundation of someone immortal and how their personality forms and grows over the years and ages...

    Hope this helps.

    Terry
     
  15. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Many 'immortal stories,' particularly ones where a bad guy is attempting to attain eternal life, take the philosophy that if you live forever, life will not be worth living, or some such tripe.
    They grow weary of living, and feel that it is time to die. (The black guy in Soul Calibur 3 comes to mind)

    My father has lived for over fifty years, and he STILL hasn't grown weary of living.
    I don't think it works that way. If I made a story where there was eternal life, then the people who had it would be glad of it.
     
  16. delhi
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    What if it actually were eternal life, but not eternal youth? I don't think it would be so nice to age really slowly and be old and weak and disastrous for a couple of centuries.

    Anyways, eternal life usually means the same age always (at some point you just don't grow old anymore, at least not at physical level). It's been said, earlier, that whether the character likes it or not depends on their own personality. Maybe if you have an incurable disease you wouldn't want to, but...

    I agree with Atari, they wouldn't grow weary of living. But what I see in the 'immortal stories', the philosophy isn't always that one. Sometimes it is like "death is what gives meaning to life". The fact that you can lose it (no, that you WILL), that you don't know what comes next, is what makes you want to live it, treasure it. Humans usually seek a reason for being alive, for being able to speak, think, feel, live. Immortal beings must have such a sense of power, as the world develops around them, that MAYBE... they just don't care. They are, they stay, they survive, and it's such an undeniable fact that they might lose interest. The point, when you write about them, is... do they?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My gods, that's ancient!


    (PS - I'll be 56 on my next birthday, and I look forward to it!)
     
  18. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Right, death giving meaning to life. That makes no sense to me, personally.
    To me, LIFE gives meaning to life. And the the knowledge that I will not die makes me that much more glad to live. Life wouldn't seem so futile if we did not simply die after an hundred years. (Incidentally, this is a good mentality to add to a character, if you're making an immortal story; someone who just doesn't see the point in dying)



    To Cogito: Eh heh. :-D Couldn't think of a better example. Well, my papaw, who is into his eighties now, I think.
    He seems content to keep right on living. (Even without one of his legs, which he lost in a motorcycle crash)


    I just CAN'T imagine someone wearying of life. (Actually, I can, but that's only because I'm so tired right now that I thrust the feeling upon everything and everyone)
     
  19. madhoca
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    The thing is, 'life' is all to do with the process of developing and changing. No one thinks exactly the same when they are 40 as they do when they are 18, no matter how 'young at heart' they are (this is a good thing, btw!).

    The mind of a character who was immortal would either change as time passed, regardless of their physical appearance (like a plastic surgery addict) or remain only in the present, like those people with brain damage who lose short-term memory. They'd be pretty peculiar people, that's for sure, even if they didn't know from birth they were immortal.
     
  20. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're going to write about the life experiences of immortals then you must spend some time studying ancient history. There were no televisions, magazines, books or internet to teach people about activities in far off lands. There were also no aircraft, trains, cars or other fast means of transportation to travel from place to place. Most cultures lived in isolation from each other. For example, while the Egyptians were building pyramids, Stonehenge was being erected in England and The Indus Vally housed one of the most "advanced cultures" and in China, the study of astronomy was already established. There were also cultures in the Americas and Australia that would not be known to your character without direct travel to those areas. And, while your eternal might wander constantly...learning from each culture...he would also be limited in his knowledge to the most advanced ideas of each epoch. In other words, he would think the world was flat until some time in the 1400's so he would have no means of travel or even expectation of "another world" like Australia because in those thousands of years before, he thought the world was flat!

    So, writing an eternal character that might have some kind of believability would require the author to have a good grasp of history. Back in 3000 BC, there would be serious problems trying to "see" the pyramids, Chinese astronomers, the builders of Stonehenge, emerging cultures in the Americas and early Australian aboriginal tribes. How did he make those journeys? Even the most prolific travelers, Vikings, only made it to the shores of North America. And, they engaged in trade or violence as dictated by each other culture they met in their travels. Did your "eternal" learn Chinese? Could he read hieroglyphics? How many languages did he learn along the way? How many different cultural "rules" was he forced to learn in order to blend in and not be subjected to distrust as a stranger? How did he support himself as he traveled? When Jews were forced out of Israel they learned that certain skills were universal to all societies. They tended to become experts in those portable skills...even today Jews remain inclined to portable professions like attorney, doctor, merchants, bankers (money lenders)...as opposed to non-portable business like farming, where any despot can take away your farm.

    I think it would be fun to "evolve" an immortal throughout history while taking into consideration the realistic limitations on travel and communications in ancient history.
     
  21. Asuran
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    I can see it going either way. A person could be so facinated with life that he may not want to die, or he might grow weary of watching people close to him drop one by one. I have a feeling that most people would take the second route. I think in order to not become depressed or suicidal, one would have to have religious faith, make ties with people of all ages, or not get attached to people in the first place.
     
  22. moff
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    We know one day of old age we will die but for ur characters death isn't inevitable, they may never die so i believe there may be a far greater sense or fear of death why end something that dose not have to end, thus they may be more cautious, want to understand more (for the simple power of knowledge and use of unlimited time) finding purpose and a point to existing, feel above mortals and develop a bond between each other far stronger then a bond two mortals could ever achieve

    but thats just my view and i apologies if any of it was addressed above, good luck
     
  23. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Check out the novel by Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood, which is actually three novels. The Oankali live so long they might as well be immortal. They can be patient and wait for centuries for a plan to come to pass. Consider that Sony planned 10 years in the future when designing the Playstation systems. What if humans lived 100,000 years? They might have designed their system thinking 100 years ahead.

    A species that can live that long might actually fund a project to build a huge space craft in space. First they would build a space station. They might not even have a concept of money.

    Obviously, unless they have a learning disability, they would be extremely knowledgeable and intelligent. They would probably seek new experiences and knowledge, or perhaps new challenges. Some might seek challenges like a drug addict seeks a drug, to the point they might be slightly suicidal.

    Think of the Q in Star Trek. What about Dr Who, the Time Lords?

    A question I think that should be address is how do being that live so long remain sane? Do their brains work very differently than ours? We can start to go bonkers in just 100 years. How do they keep them selves occupied?

    One way I think a species could gain new experiencs is inventing something like the Matrix, or a holodeck. Something that allows them to experience anything they could imagine. Those experiences expands their imagination. Their expanded imagination allows them to think up new experiences, and the process never ends.
     
  24. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    One other thing. A philosophical problem. If they are immortal, how did they begin? Who is the oldest? Who is the first? Are any of them truly eternal, that is they have no beginning?
     
  25. Every
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    My first thought on the subject is that if people would have eternal life, they would develop multiple personalities during different ''stages'' of their life.

    People who have lived a very long time will have seen a lot of different eras of information, technology, and social perception. And you know how old people tend to get more and more conservative over time, and think that ''what used to be'' is best? People who have eternal lived would have to ''rid'' themselves of former ways of thinking, and actions, and I think letting the characters have different personalities (depending on the century they're in), would help them cope with this. So the older a person, the wiser, and the more ''personalities''.

    But unlike people with a multipersonality disorder, these personalities ''work together'', and all of them form one mind, in one body.

    Coming to think of it, its like reincarnation of the soul, but within the same body. So you could let the ''development'' of a new personality revolve around a big emotional event in which the characters soul feels like dying. (Loss of a loved one, rape, etc...)
     

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