Yesterday, I talked about awesome old characters, and why they work so well with their audiences. Today I’m going to look a little more closely about how we make the awesome oldie.
First off, remember confidence. The awesome old character has been around for a while; she knows what she can do, she knows how the people around her work, she’s seen it all and is secure in her understanding of her surroundings and her own abilities. This is vital. Confidence allows the awesome old character to do what she does well, but without making an undue fuss over it, skewing her safely towards the awesome side of the awesome vs. better than you continuum. Note that confidence is best when shown, not told; if they carry themselves right, and they’ve got the right tone, you don’t have to constantly talk about how secure in their ages and attainments they are.
Don’t forget the history. Old characters have, again, been around; that means that they’ve been to a lot of theres and done a lot of thats. It’s probably better if they don’t directly volunteer it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come through in smaller ways—analogizing to things they’ve done in the past, fondly (or not so fondly) remembering other people they ran into, occasionally dropping a reference to something that was a lot more relevant before.
Remember also that this character is, well, old, and that old bodies just don’t work the way younger bodies do. It doesn’t have to be as cartoonish a reminder as the old man fight scene from Up, with backs being thrown out and false teeth used as a weapon; it doesn’t even have to be particularly obvious, on the ones who have been doing their best to keep their ages from catching up to them. But the hearing might go, the joints get stiff, the vision blur, the arthritis kick in; even if they’re not letting the others around them see how they’re slowing down, they are. Just a moment of realization, that one time when the older character lets her guard down, can say a lot.
Don’t forget those nonphysical strategies; awesome elders are often wise, or at the very least quite inventive. An awesome old character might have acquired a knack for letting her facial expressions do the work for her, or for choosing her words to do maximum damage. She might be particularly good at reading body language, or at the art of looking more harmless and senile than she actually is until the time is right. Some even lean on their ages; being old and apparently senile means that they’re allowed to speak the truth and nobody thinks the worse of them for it, and their advanced age gives them plenty of reinforcements if someone younger and more fit tries to pick a fight with them. A younger character can get away with being completely dependent on physical prowess, but an elder cannot—and it’s those extra tricks that make them so nifty. Consider Boneclaw Mother from Digger, hyena matriarch and master of “The Thing”, “Where you tell people what they’re thinking and freak them out” as Grim Eyes puts it; when she isn’t apparently peering into people’s minds, she’s using the power of guilt-trips and her own old and feeble status to get them doing what she wants them to, and we love her for it.
Remember when creating awesome old characters to keep both words in mind—awesome and old—and to make sure the age is actually part of the character.