Save the Elderly Characters

elderly character meme

When a book or movie opens to a scene of a happy elderly person dancing around, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

Sudden death!

It might be cruel, but it’s the truth. These days in fiction it is impossible for the elderly to find happiness. The moment they do marks a sudden ending to their life, normally in the form of a heart attack.

old character death meme

I’m not even exaggerating. Elderly characters always seem to kick the bucket in fiction. If they are not the main character the old are almost always killed off. Even when the old person is the main character, more times than not the book will end with them embracing death.

Maybe it is time for that to change.

Old People Dying is Getting Old

I get it. The older you get the more likely you are to die. It’s nature.

However, the rate at which elderly characters die in fiction is absurdly high. Even the seemingly immortal old characters seem to find a way to kick the bucket by the end of the novel. 

The problem with this is at this point I expect every character above the age of sixty I read about to die. I try not to connect to them too closely because I know it’s only a matter of pages before they have a stroke. When your reader is expecting death to happen it can lose some of the emotional impacts.

character death meme
I really hope this isn’t a spoiler to anyone at this point…

If you are trying to shock your reader, a sudden heart attack in an elderly character is no longer going to do it. When it comes to killing characters old people have become a go-to choice. Maybe it’s because writers find it easier to write an older person.

I understand that killing an old mentor is sometimes used to invoke a change in your protagonist. If it is a necessary death to the plot there is nothing wrong with killing an elderly mentor character.

mentor death meme
This one came directly from my Instagram

However, I encourage you to assess if killing this character truly is necessary. If not then you should consider allowing them to live to see the end of your book. At this point, an elderly character who reaches the end of the story stands out far more than one who dies.

Writing an old person who reaches the end of the story in health can provide readers a breath of fresh air.

The Elderly Deserve Happy Endings Too

For once in my life, I think it would be cool to see a story end happily for an elderly character.

By this, I don’t mean the ending where they stand in the afterlife looking back at the hero, or the one where they live on in the hearts of younger characters. I mean it would be nice to see an elderly character find happiness in the living realm for once.

old character deaths meem

Giving an elderly character the happy ending they deserve is something so rarely done in fiction. Doing so might just make your book more memorable.

Just think of it, you can end a book with the protagonist and their grandfather sitting on the porch together in peace. There is no rule that says you have to follow up a scene like this with an ambulance. 

Conclusion 

I am not telling you to never kill old characters. Writers kill characters, and some of those characters are going to be elderly. 

This post is just a recommendation to give it a second thought before you automatically terminate your elderly characters. 

As a writer, every decision should be well thought out, and that includes whether or not an old character should survive to see the end of your story. 

Has this post changed how you view killing of elderly characters?

Author: Patrick Nilan

Just a young writer looking to take the mistakes I've made to aid the next generation.