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Back From The Dead

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 2, 2021

So we've talked often about how letting a character die in a story is something that should be used very frugally, because once death occurs, it should be permanent. In most settings, death shouldn't be something that is reversible. If not, it will lose its impact, and the audience might feel that the characters are not ever really risking anything, and therefore, lose their engagement in the plot.

But, as with all rules, it can be bent, or even broken.

How can a character that has died be brought back from the dead?

And note, I'm talking about characters so dead that we see their corpse on-screen, in-frame. Not off-screen situations that procure no body and no funeral, and thus can be spinned in a way that the character was ‘never really dead’.

First and foremost, it should be set up within the setting and cosmos of the story. Rare or not, it should be established well in advance, before there is even a hint of a death occuring, that there is a possibility for life to be restored to a dead person. How hard, how special, how complicated is up to you while you do your worldbuilding.

The second thing is that it can't happen willy nilly. Most death, even in such settings, has to be permanent. Resurrection should be the outlier, not “plan B”, or you are running the risk of having the audience disengage or, even worse, not feel emotional if a character dies.

Second, bringing a person back should not be equivalent to a reset in the story: the trauma, the chagrin, the experience of loss have all taken place, and that changes people in the environment of the once-dead character. They may develop different reactions (e.g. they don't fuss about things they used to OR they fuss too much about things they never used to. They may be clingy, or distant etc). Personalities may be different, and relationships may change depending on the circumstances of the death as well as the circumstances of the resurrection.

And of course, the person that was dead and is now alive again will be changed. Even if they don't remember what death was like, they will remember (the circumstances of their death. Even people that experience amnesia over traumatic events have emotional memories/reactions to certain stimuli.

Death may not be permanent, but it does leave permanent change.

Long story short, in my opinion and experience, death can be reversed and the story lose no merit, but it needs to be afforded its due weight, and the event of the reversal also be treated similarly. And of course, it shouldn't be done often. Sometimes more than once is too much.

Have you ever brought a character back from the dead?

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hushicho at 2:44PM, Jan. 2, 2021

Honestly, the Dallas stunt was the only thing they could do at that point, largely because they had approached death so lightly and just went nuts with doing all these shocking things for the sake of ratings. That's what most people use death as in their story, and that's why I say: don't! You can get comparable surprise and investment by simply injuring or incapacitating the character, and then you don't have to look like a hack when you either realize it was a terrible idea and undo it, or stick to your guns and lose all the people who either liked the character or felt the stunt was in questionable taste and they don't care about your story anymore. It is important for everything to have some weight (unless your point is different), but that's more easily and typically better done by focusing on different things.

usedbooks at 8:11AM, Jan. 2, 2021

I enjoy a good "quest to retrieve a soul" or whatever. It's really cool when the world mechanics get into afterlife and especially traveling to a nether-realm of some sort. I don't write anything life that. I consume fantasy, but I don't produce it. (I also have been watching a lot of Korean series with demons and afterlife worlds.) Another way I've seen it done is through time travel mechanics. The most important thing is to set up the scenario so that it is rare, costly, and limited. Life is Strange (video game) is probably one of the best time manipulation magic realism stories. Because the time manipulation tears the universe apart -- all to save a single life who was fated to die (and gets to die in other scenarios through the story too).

bravo1102 at 4:20AM, Jan. 2, 2021

So the character can't just walk out of the shower and it was all a dream. That example is just too good not to mention. Ninth season finale of Dallas way back in 1986. The huge surprise that invalidated half a season of prior episodes. Yeah, don't do that. Or if you do, save it for a parody.

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