19 January, 2012

Does It Bother You If The Author Brings A Dead Character Back To Life?

Say the protagonist watches the love of their life fall off a cliff.

(Lewis Clark, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic)

Or, perhaps you read along as the antagonist stabbed one of the main characters through the heart with a sword. Maybe someone got poisoned or bitten. Maybe they disappeared under terrible circumstances.

Whatever happens, there seems to be a trend where the character will (surprise!) re-emerge later on in the book as not only alive, but thriving. I can see why authors would use this as a plot twist. There's nothing like finding out someone you thought was dead is actually alive and has been for a while.

However, I find that I begin to lose faith in the author after that. Particularly if a character's death was described--s/he stopped breathing or was wounded--and the living character(s) witnessed it, I can't help but feel like nothing that happens afterwords can be trusted. And while uncertainty is great for suspense and tension, if there's too much of it, then the story turns into a jumbled mess.

There are exceptions to being "alive", of course--vampires are dead to begin with and a lot of other Paranormal/Fantasy creatures are similar in that regard--but even those characters are usually subject to being killed permanently, and in many cases it sure sounds like the treatment they got was fatal.

Basically, after a certain point, it gets ridiculous. If you killed your character, they should stay dead. Unless there is a really, really good reason that goes beyond plot twists and emotional punches, you shouldn't bring someone back. (Some would argue that this is impossible in any context, furthermore, which is another issue--the characters' perceptions and beliefs on death and dying cannot suddenly change to accommodate another character's reappearance.)

What do you think? For you, how far can an author go in resurrecting characters before you lose faith in the story?


-----The Golden Eagle

64 comments:

Susan Roebuck said...

It's a little like "oh it was all a dream", isn't it? I suppose zombie books bring dead people to "life" but otherwise I've never known any other author do it effectively.

cherie said...

I'm not a fan, actually. If they've been proclaimed dead, then they should stay dead...unless...

I mostly read Paranormal and Fantasy. If a just-barely-died person was say, revived by some kind of magic right on the spot, and they live, I can buy that. But you're saying that this is a character killed off, only to re-emerge later as alive for the purpose of shocking the readers. I'd say, 'Okay, but no.' At least, not for me. Which is only my own preference. ;)

M.J. Fifield said...

I think my stance on this topic depends on the genre and how it's done. Like you were saying, if a character's death is described in great detail, they really shouldn't be coming back. At least not in the same way they were before their death. Maybe they come back as a vampire or a ghost or whatever.

K. Turley (Clutzattack) said...

If an author fails to convince me they're dead beyond any shadow of a doubt, I will assume they might come back and it will ruin any twist/surprise the author had in mind.

Either kill them right the first time, or don't bother.

Heidi Windmiller said...

If the reader actually witnesses the character die, then I'm not a fan of bringing them back.

However, I do enjoy the twist when a character is expected to die and doesn't--like in The Dead Tossed Waves, and the reader doesn't find out what happened until later in the novel.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It depends on how it's done. If the character vanishes and the actual death isn't witnessed, then I'll buy it.
I killed one of my characters. He stayed dead.

DWei said...

What about a hero being reanimated as a zombie? What about then?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm with you on this. I feel cheated if I've suffered the emotion along with the characters and then it turns out we were tricked.

Lynda R Young said...

It all depends on how the author does it. It's like in Misery where the number one fan wanted the author to bring back her fav character whom he'd killed off. But she stressed he wasn't allowed to make it a trite return. It had to be logical and 100% believable.

The Writing Hour. said...

I think it all depends on how the author does it, but most of the time it seems like the author is trying to be tricky and surprising.
In my WIP, one of my main characters dies and I toyed with the idea of her death being faked, but decided it was a bit of a stretch. She's going to stay dead haha.

Beth said...

It would bother me more in contemp than paranormal/urban fantasy/fantasy. But the one time it did REALLY bother me was when the book ended with the mc's best friend dying then in the sequel the best friend was alive and well and the bf seemed to have ended the last novel in an unfortunate situation(though not quite dead), and that's not what I remember the first book saying!

Old Kitty said...

All I know is I'm glad Arthur Conan Doyle revived Sherlock Holmes from his certain death as he and Moriarty fell of that great big waterfalls! Otherwise there wouldn't have been The Hound of the Baskervilles!
:-)

Take care
x

Angie said...

Depends on the story, I think. It can get to be old quickly!

L.G.Smith said...

I can think of a few I liked seeing come back from the dead. Sherlock Holmes is one. Also, everyone sort of grieved for Gandalf when he fell into the abyss, but I loved it when he came back as Gandalf the white.

If it's done simply for shock value or a plot twist because the author couldn't figure out how to get themselves out of the mess they wrote, then I agree it would probably be annoying.

E. Arroyo said...

Oh jeeze, I've reverted back to my soap opera days. I would lose faith in the story if that happens.

Emily R. King said...

I agree that I do lose faith in the author, unless it was foreshadowed that the character would return. But then the resurrection isn't a surprise, it's expected.
I dunno. I haven't used this one yet, but maybe I will someday. I think it just needs to be done RIGHT.

Pat Hatt said...

Depends on how they die, if like you say it was described in detail that they were totally and utterly toast and then by some magic bibbity bobbity boo moment they come back, DUMB. When mine die they stay dead. Of course a lot can happen in between alive and dead with time travel, it's all relative..haha

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

This device was used so often on soap operas, it became a cliche--you started *expecting* every dead character to come back at some point! (The life insurance companies in those fictional towns must've had their fraud units working overtime!)

Because of that, and because it's so far-fetched, an author needs real skill to pull it off. But it can be done.

cestlavie22 said...

I really havent encounter this in too many books but I can say that unless there is some reason that this would happen this would really bother me. I am someone who likes realistic plots and to resurrect a dead character really throws that away.

Nisa said...

I kind of like those plot twists, but like everything, I think it should be done in moderation. If you've done it once, doing it again would probably be really annoying.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Eeep. I hope not. I killed off a character in my second book so that he could be resurrected a few hours later. My intent is that he comes back from the other side with the ability to talk with ghosts which will be important later in the series.

Christina Farley said...

I like the surprise factor I suppose but it's not as fun as when an author is being original. So I could put up with it, but I'd rather something else entirely.

Christine Rains said...

Unless it's really well done, I don't like it. Once a character is dead, they should stay that way. Give the remaining characters something to deal with.

Trisha said...

I'd rather they didn't come back, really. But it's more tolerable if the "death scene" wasn't really convincing, i.e. "his entrails spilled out all over the ground..." then later they somehow had sucked themselves back in & his flesh had knit itself back together. haha

It's something that amuses me about shows like DAYS OF OUR LIVES - people are ALWAYS coming back from the dead!

Madeline Jane said...

I definitely agree. Death isn't something you can just put a person through and decide to revive them again, and vice versa. I mean. . . It's death. But then again, all rules are meant to be broken sometime sooner or later. ;)

Sofia said...

Yes. Yes. Yes. This has always bugged me. I mean, occasionally you're completely overjoyed, because this one character that you loved has come back, but for the most part, you're just sort of like, "Oh. You're back. I thought you left. For good."

~Sofia

Rusty Webb said...

Honestly, I grew up reading comic books and folks dying and coming back pretty much was to be expected. Anymore, I'm generally expecting dead people to come back in books now. I might still hope for a really neat explanation, but not much else.

Sananora said...

I've never actually read a book where the author does that. But I wouldn't like it in books.

I've wanted to do it in one of my books, but I smacked some sense into my brain. So....

Susan Kane said...

I consider the resurrection ploy in a book as very low. We survived "Dallas: the return of JR", and didn't like it then.

Belle said...

It does seem like a trick the author pulls on you.

Donna Hole said...

I hate it what the dead come back to life to tie up the story plot. It feels lazy, manipulative. Unless it is a spy novel or something similar.

But yeah, the surprise return makes me distrust the author. I'd never do that in my writings - unless they returned as a vampire or other immortal. Then, that would be essential to the story, and not likely to be a surprise - especially at the end.

.......dhole

Misha Gericke said...

Yeah I agree. When I read something like that, I think the writer's a coward.

Because the reader wanted to put his/her character through deep waters by killing a loved one, but didn't have the guts to follow through.

Abhishek Boinapalli said...

Well .. I accept such bizarre events when it is well crafted. Else gone!!


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....Petty Witter said...

It really does all depend on just how they died and whether or not we KNEW them to be deead or just PRESUMED them dead. I hate it when they do a 'Bobby Ewing' though - you are probably too young to know what I'm talking about but this was an American soap opera character who we we believed to be dead only for him to reappear, his death (and his being missing for a whole series) being explained as it all having been a dream his wife had had. Stupid, I think you'll agree.

Charles Gramlich said...

It all depends on how it was set up. Horror movies and books do this, and some do it well. It can sure get old quick if overused or misused, though

Margo Kelly said...

Seriously. Kill him and leave him dead. I hate it when it happens on t.v. and in books.

Stuart Nager said...

As others mentioned, Sherlock Holmes was brought back...but Doyle bowed under the pressure of his readers. I just read a book (almost gave away the whole thing: can't mention the fantasy/horror series) where the main character was shot at the end of the last book and dies. This book...things progress. Made sense, and was well written.

As a comic book person, death happens so regularly and is dismissed...yeah, it's sometimes just plain lazy writing.

Adam said...

Yeah I don't like those. I do like ghosts of characters coming back for a small cameo

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've always looked at it as a plot contrivance. I don't like it when authors bring back a dead character.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I don't like it if they've described the death in detail and low and behold, they're back. TV/Movies do it.

Granted in some books I read, there is a chance to bring the person back, depending upon the circumstance and the genre. However, there are a few subtle clues that make you wonder if they really died.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Heather said...

Unless it's a book with necromancers, or some kind of paranormal element that explains it well, I kind of hate it when they do that. It's just so soap opera-y. But all bets are off with paranormal elements. And if it's done well in that aspect, I don't usually mind.

The Golden Eagle said...

Susan: And they continually say not to use dreams in your novels. :P

Cherie: I agree. If the magic is done soon after and it's clear the event was logical, then I don't mind it.

M.J.: I hadn't thought of ghosts when I wrote this post, but it's true a lot of characters do come back as ghosts--I think those make more sense than the character actually being alive.

K. Turley: My thinking's the same. Though if it's been long enough since a character died, I'll usually assume they're dead.

Heidi: I've never read The Dead Tossed Waves, but I agree, that is a good plot twist!

Alex: Vanishings are easier to swallow. The possibility remains until it's proved otherwise, in those cases.

DWei: I don't read much zombie fiction, but that's a good point; sometimes the protagonist IS a zombie.

Susan: Some tricks I don't mind, but others are just too much. :P

Lynda: Wait . . . there's a scene in the book where the character is talking to another character who is an author?

But anyway, I agree. If it's logical, that's fine with me!

The Writing Hour: Aw, now I feel bad for your MC. :P

Beth: That sounds like a major incongruence. I wonder why the author did that . . .

Old Kitty: Ah, now there's a famous example of a character coming back to life!

I remember reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, but I can't recall any of the story itself. I should re-read it sometime.

Angie: Definitely.

L.G.: Ah, Gandalf. I can't say I'm unhappy that he came back from presumed death!

E. Arroyo: I guess that's my problem with it. It just feels like a soap opera, and I read books because they're not like opera. :P

Emily: True. If it's done carefully and is believable, then it doesn't seem melodramatic.

I'm sure you're one of the writers who could do it excellently. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Pat: I love time travel stories--that would be interesting, if a dead character appeared again because the story took place in a different time!

Jennifer: LOL. I know I would have, if I had a life insurance company there. :P

I agree. If it's done properly, I don't have anything against it.

Cestlavie22: Same here. A few genres are beyond reality by nature (Fantasy/Science Fiction) but the events must be logical in some way.

Nisa: Good point. Everything gets annoying after too much repetition . . .

Michael: Now that sounds like an effective way of using this sort of plot twist. :)

Christina: True. It's much more enjoyable when the author comes up with something new!

Christine: It certainly makes it harder for the other characters if someone dies--and there's always more suspense that way!

Trisha: LOL. That would be an . . . interesting scene.

I've never heard of that show before. But that title sounds like it's a bit ironic for the show. :P

Madeline: Yup. There's an exception to every writing rule!

Sofia: That's usually what goes through my head, too. LOL.

Rusty: I don't read that many comic books compared to the number of novels--I wonder why that's true of the genre, though.

Sananora: I don't think it's impossible or wrong to pull off. It just has to be logical and realistic.

Susan: I haven't heard of the movie before, but it sounds a bit . . . melodramatic, from the title.

Belle: I don't mind a tricky plot, but this is one of the twists that can be really hard to pull off.

Donna: Spy novels seem to break a lot of the rules, don't they? :P

Yup. Immortals/anything else that's hard to kill are more believable returnees from the dead.

Misha: It can be hard to kill a character--unless it's the antagonist. In which case I have to wonder why they would bring them back. Most writers seem to enjoy getting their revenge. LOL.

The Golden Eagle said...

Abhishek: Same with me.

Petty Witter: I've never heard of the character before, but that's a good distinction--if the character is presumed to be dead there's still a reasonable (if small) possibility. If they're seen to die, then it doesn't make sense unless there's some reason that the author creates that also makes sense in relation to the world.

Definitely agree! I don't like it when everything bad that happened turns out to be a dream.

Charles: That's another one of the genres that does it more frequently. I guess the more it's done within a certain type of fiction, the more often there are good examples.

Margo: I agree. :) Unless there's a really good reason . . .

Stuart: I can think of one book off the top of my head where the MC died at the end; it's a powerful twist for a novel. Though, again, it has to be done well for it to work.

Glad to hear the book you read pulled it off effectively!

Adam: Ghosts make relative sense for a story; at least they're a recognized return. It's when a character just springs up it can be a bit irritating.

L. Diane: Contrived is the worst, whether it's plot, dialogue, etc.; it has to be natural/logical.

Sia: The clues can be interesting. And it certainly helps to add to the suspense if there's a possibility a character is still alive!

Heather: Paranormal is definitely an exception in that area. Those characters are unusually hardy--LOL.

E.D. said...

If they die, they should stay dead, unless we are talking about a vampire or other immortal-type creature. Not a fan of "it was a dream" kind of construction.

Donna K. Weaver said...

It's actually a plot point in the Wheel of Time series that the Dark One can bring his human minions back. It can be so aggravating because the characters are hard enough to kill once. Then they're brought back and you don't even know who they are they because they've been given a new body.

If handled well, it can be okay. But I agree that someone you actually saw die, someone you and the characters know is dead, has to have a very good (and rare) reason be being resurrected.

Krispy said...

I think it can be done given the right circumstances (like if the "death" itself is vague enough to leave doubt that it actually happened), but if it's done too often, then the tension is lost. Then it feels like there's no tension because threat of death loses its power. Plus, it does often feel like a cheap trick, and I end up feeling annoyed instead of impressed. :P

Tyrean Martinson said...

I agree! Dead is dead. Even in action movies there are limits to how many times a character can take a kick to the spine and keep getting up . . . unless we already "know" they have some super-abilities.
Bringing back dead characters reminds me of soap opera schemes that my friends in junior high told me about . . . "oh so-and-so is back from being missing at sea for three months. He didn't really drown but . . ." - yeah, right.

LynNerdKelley said...

I don't mind if it's done in a believable way, but readers for the most part don't like being tricked. It does make us less likely to trust the author's writing!

Carrie Butler said...

I want the MC to assume (after a strong external suggestion) that the other character is dead and act accordingly. I want to believe it, myself. Then, when the truth is revealed, I want to look back and be like, "Gah! Why didn't I see that?!"

Great post, Eagle! :)

Carol Kilgore said...

It all depends on the story for me. If it's believable in the story - say a mystery if the police want a killer to believe he succeeded - then fine. Or if a character comes back as a ghost, I'm fine with that. But don't continually kill people off and bring them back. The reader loses faith. And don't do it in every book either.

Kari Marie White said...

I've killed off a character or two and while it was mighty tempting to bring them back when my plot got thin, I let'm rot.

I agree that it depends on how it's done. If they disappear and no one sees the death and it's plausible they survived. I read a book where the protagonist jumped out of a helicopter above 10,000 feet without a parachute and lived after landing in the river. I, uh, had a bad reaction.

tfwalsh said...

It kind of reminds me of soap operas where this happens all the time.. I'm with you.. I'd lose credibility with the author since what happens does have to have some reality to it;)

Sangu Mandanna said...

I think the re-appearance can work really well - but only if it's clear, in hindsight, that that was what the author intended all along. Say, you find out the character's alive and realize that oh yeah! there were some obvious clues pointing that way (dead but no body, for example, which is cliched but at least it's believable). But I can't stand it when it's a series, and a character dies, and it's all tragic and oh noes!, and then three books later the character comes back because it's obvious the author knew that's what readers wanted...

Rachel Morgan said...

I don't remember coming across this "problem" in any novel yet, but I do remember a certain soap opera that I used to watch every now and then in high school where the bad guy kept dying, disappearing from the show for a while, and then magically returning!! That just ticked me off. I was like how? HOW??

Annalise Green said...

This is a timely post for me! Because right now as I draft my WIP, I'm wrestling with the idea of doing something similar. We will see.

However, in my case, it's more like a disappearance where it's heavily suggested that the person died, or at least were put in a situation where they were likely to die. I think that witnessed deaths, where survival looks impossible, are dangerous to bring characters back from, because it lowers the stakes. It makes the reader feel like the characters aren't actually at risk. And readers should always feel like their favorite characters are at risk! *evil laughter*

So, yeah. I think it can be effective, if used sparingly. It's also easy to do it the wrong way.

Lydia Kang said...

This is a cliche, but I think if it can be done well and it's believable (like, there better be a really good reason why that happened) then it could be okay. I'm on the fence.

Michelle Dennis Evans said...

yah... once a story becomes unbelievable... I do lose interest. ;\

The Golden Eagle said...

E.D.: Me, neither.

Donna: That does sound frustrating. :P

(I should read the Wheel of Time series at some point; I've seen it mentioned several times around the blogosphere . . .)

Krispy: A lot of the "dramatic" plot twists can cause the story to lose tension, it seems--the opposite effect of what the writer intended.

Tyrean: I always wondered how some characters could survive getting beat up so often or shot at by so many people and still survive.

LOL.

LynNerdKelley: No, they don't!

Carrie: I agree. If it's just an assumption, and the death was witnessed, then it can be effective. :)

Thank you!

Carol: Nope. Otherwise it would be terribly predictable . . .

Kari: Well, when you put it that way--poor characters. LOL.

Was that the book by Dan Brown? I heard that the MC jumped out of a helicopter for one of his books; it was the one I didn't read so I don't know. It sounds like a pretty bad way of getting the character out of a situation, at any rate!

Sangu: I hate that as well. If the story doesn't point in that direction, then the readers shouldn't be able to change it.

Rachel: That does sound rather impossible. :P

Annalise: I agree!

If the character's aren't fighting for their lives at every turn, what's the point of reading? (I feel really bad for characters now . . . LOL.)

Lydia: Provided the story is written well and there aren't plot holes, I'm okay with a twist like that. It's just when characters pop up seemingly out of nowhere.

Michelle: The story has to be at least somewhat realistic.

Paul Tobin said...

I am not sure I go along with the resurrection of characters, it seems to smack of an author painted into a corner. You see it on the tv and it doesn't work. I say once you've gone you've gone.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Golden, thanks for your kind words in recent weeks.

Regarding your question about a dead character being resurrected. Generally, readers don't like being tricked. If the character is killed and described as dead, then s/he should stay dead. The exception would be something like a ghost or other paranormal creature as you mentioned. If the character survives, then the writer must give room for that in the death scene or perhaps the fatal wound is overcome in the next chapter by a medical miracle or by a paranormal plot twist such as we saw with the Highlander series where they were immortal. Otherwise, the reader will not stay long with this author.

Just my opinion.
Nancy

The Golden Eagle said...

Paul: True--if the author paints him/herself into a corner, they should either find a realistic way out or rewrite.

Nancy: I hope you're feeling better!

I agree with you. If there's some realistic or logical explanation then it will work.

Jamie Gibbs said...

In fantasy, it doesn't gel well with me at all. Killing an MC is an upheaval - an event that is meant to shock and shake up the reader. Bringing them back cheapens that somewhat.

Christy said...

Oh, it really annoys me when dead characters come back to life. When that happens, I lose trust in the writer. Then, if there is another loss in the story, I won't allow myself to get emotionally involved.