Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bringing Back The Dead

As both writers and audience, we grow attached to characters.  We want to see what happens to them, and we mourn when they’re gone.  Unfortunately, our mourning sometimes leads to a phenomenon I despise – bringing characters back from the dead.

I know not a lot of people agree with me on this, but I think it’s cliché to bring back folks who are already dead.  It removes the tension from a story when the characters aren’t in any genuine danger(I define genuine danger as being the chance we’ll never see them again).  Why would I mourn a character or get anxious for the situation they’re in if the author has shown a tendency to bring back those he or she has killed previously?

Bringing folks back may have been novel at one time, just like the “No, I’m you’re father” line from The Empire Strikes Back was once mind blowing.  When the first writers did it, it must’ve shocked readers to the core.  No way!  They were dead!  I wonder what other twists await.  However, that scenario is well played out by now.  There’s no more shock because the technique has been overdone.

This applies equally to characters obviously alluded to as dead.  If a mistress falls overboard, and all we find are her purse and sunglasses, she needs to be dead.  History has conditioned us so well now that we’re expecting to get the character back.  That makes it anti-climactic when it happens.  Imagine how you could shock readers by actually killing off a character in that situation.  Further, imagine the tension it would create for the rest of your work.  Will that character survive?  Are they dead or just missing?  We just don’t know.

I know I’m rambling, but it’s a real pet peeve of mine to use something so trite.  I tend to write off writers who do this, and I wonder at what other boring ideas I’ll find.  When people die in real life, they don’t come back.  If we want readers to take our stories seriously, why should our novels be any different?


  1. I also don't like seeing characters brought back from the dead, but I also don't like killing off my characters to begin with--so it's not likely to be a huge problem in my writing. Sooner or later I will kill off a major character, and when I do ... they're gone for good.

  2. That's the kind of thing that creates actual tension in our stories. By not giving the audience an easy out when folks are gone, it makes them wonder how you'll toy with them next. ;-)