How To Bring A Character Back To Life

So you've got a dead character - or will have a dead character soon - and you really need a way to bring this character back to life. But you probably don't want to do it in a way that makes death feel cheap, and you definitely don't want to do it in a way that creates a big plothole. So what should you do? This article will cover the essentials you need to consider and think about.

Optimally, you should decide how you want death to work early in your work's development. Do you want death to have a big emotional impact and significant meaning? Then aim to keep it permanent, or at least mostly so. A resurrection shouldn't happen more than once in your entire story, if it all, and there should be no obvious way of recreating it. Is it okay if death really isn't that big of a deal? Then go ahead and bring characters back to life as often as you want. Whichever you choose, make sure your characters' reactions and your story's framing fit it appropriately - your characters shouldn't fall into deep mourning if they know death realy isn't much more than a temporary inconvenience, and they shouldn't act like no big deal if they understand that it's permanent.

If you're already in the middle of writing your story or series and you haven't figured this out yet, it's okay! You can still work it out. If you've already had characters die and played it up for serious drama (whether in the backstory or in the main narrative), you probably don't want to start resurrecting a bunch of characters - it'll cheapen the impact and meaning of their deaths. If you haven't actually had anyone die, then you can go either way depending on what you want to do.

If you ultimately decide that death should be a big deal but you still need to get a character out of the picture for awhile, you can take a look at Alternatives To Killing Your Characters.

Is bringing a character back to life really a good idea right now? Again, the more you bring characters back to life, the less impact death has. This isn't always a problem; easy resurrections mean that you can play death for comedy if you want, and there are plenty of other ways to create drama besides killing characters. But if death is supposed to be a big deal, you need to think this over carefully. The more you bring characters back to life, the more your audience will come to expect it, and the less they'll be affected when someone else dies. Additionally, it'll make previous character seem less tragic and meaningful; and if you framed their deaths as big tragic affairs, that framing will just seem jarring and even dishonest now.

Why do you want to bring this character back to life? Was this character a huge reason people liked your story? Will bringing the character back to life help move the story forward or create interesting new plotlines? Will it spark character development for anyone? Or are you planning to use it as a cheap gimmick or a one-shot plot device? If the latter, consider that someone coming back to life would probably be a pretty big deal with lasting emotional consequences, and that trying to sweep all that fallout under the rug might seem like a cop-out, or make poeple feel like they've been cheated out of a very interesting storyline.

Would anything else work instead? If you want your main characters to gain information from the dead character, perhaps they might find notes or a recording. If you want them to learn more about what kind of a person this character was, perhaps they might find notes or recordings, or talk to old friends, relatives, and colleages. If it's a matter of needing someone with a certain skillset, you might create a new character. So think about what exactly you need to bring the character back for, and ask yourself if anything else might work instead.

How will the character come back, and what implications and consequences might this have? How you bring a character back to life can range from "was actually alive this whole time" to "summoned back from the bottom of the very grave." Each option has ramifications and implications that you should carefully consider. For example, if you go with a faked or mistaken death, you need to make sure it's actually plausible that the death could have been faked or that someone would have mistaken the character for dead, and you need a satisfactory answer as to why the character didn't get in contact with the others sooner. (A vague or flimsy answer can make the character seem callous and self-centered.) You should also ask yourself how traumatic the entire experience might be for this character and what kind of lingering effects it might have. (For example, if you reveal that your character was actually captured and imprisoned by enemies for a long while, C-PTSD is a fairly likely consequence.) If you choose to literally bring the character back from the dead through scientific or magical means, you need ask yourself whether the specific means the characters are using might be so easy and simple that there's no reason not to use it again in the future, and if so, whether that might be a problem for your story later on. Additionally, you should also ask yourself if your scenario raises the question of why nobody used or found this resurrection method before now.

What else does this mean for your setting at large? Being able to bring people back from the dead is going to have consequences of one form or another. It might raise serious ethical or theological questions. It might encourage people to behave more recklessly, since they can just be brought back if they die. And any government that learns about this is going to want to get its hands on it as soon as possible.

Do your rules about who can and can't come back from the dead actually make sense? Obviously, anytime that you decide characters can be resurrected with fantastical means, you need to outline some rules as to who can come back and when. In addition, you also need to ask yourself whether these rules make sense in context. For example, it doesn't make sense for ressurection magic to have horrible magical backlashes because such magic is "unnatural" or whatever when the universe also has medical science that can bring people back to life with no real consequences. (If the universe/gods/whatever hates people coming back to life that much, why does medical science get a free pass?) So stop and ask yourself if the rules you're setting out really make sense in the larger scheme of things, or if they're actually a bit arbitrary or random when you compare them to how everything else works.

What kind of personal and emotional consequences will the character's return have for everyone? If your character was liked by most of the people in the story, you might be thinking, "Well duh, everyone's going to be happy about it and things are going to go back to normal." But realistically, things might not be that clean cut. Friends and family may have shared some rather personal details about this character that they wouldn't have shared otherwise. They may have developed new dynamics with each other in the meantime, or even gone and met new people. Someone else might have stepped up to fill the role or niche your character once filled in the group. Basically, your character might come back to a very different social or work environment, and may find it difficult to feel needed or at home again.

See also:

Tips & Advice On Killing Main Characters
"Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself!
Setting Rules & Limitations In Your World: Why & How You Need To Do This
Phlebotinum-Development Questions
How To Avoid Making Your Story And Characters Feel Contrived

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