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Author Topic: Back from the dead
Member # 8617

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Joss Whedon is resurrecting Agent Coulsen. Sherlock Holmes came back from the dead. This guy in a lame horror film looked like he got killed only to have survived (hey, I think Whedon had something to do with that, too). Superman was killed and then came back. Every character from Dune comes back eventually. I think there is a literary tradition that shows death isn't all that final. Although, I think I disliked pretty much all of the above, so I need help.

Anyone know of any good examples of bringing characters back from the dead after killing them? I'm writing a short story prequel to a novel I want to start. The prequel is a tragedy and the protagonist from it is going to be the major villain in my novel. Then I got to thinking that the person the prequel's protagonist must kill would make a great villain in a sequel. So I'll be thinking of ways to kill a man who I plan on not really being dead and I don't want it to suck. I think I have a plausible way of killing my man, but I like seeing something done well before attempting to screw it up on my own.

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Member # 9277

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This sounds like a question for Miracle Max [Smile]

I would think that "mostly dead" methods would vary depending on the genre. Are we dealing with magic or technology?

One way is to kill the character "off-screen." Then, to paraphrase Mark Twain, you can greatly exaggerate reports of his death. This way, no one really saw him die, at least no reliable eye witness. No body, no murder/death.

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Member # 3233

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You make his death in a way where there was a way he could have survived. In Bond, one bad guy ran into a building at full till before it was blown up. the question was left "could he have had time to run out the other side and survive?
For magic, someone could accidentally or on purpose, call him back from the dead. They might have forgotten to include the commands to control him, and, the commands to give him great power so he is back to his normal self.

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Robert Nowall
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Death is a fact of life in, well, life...but in the Sub-Creation that is the literary life, the characters can die and come back to suit the Sub-Creator.

You could kill him off in old-movie-serial "Perils-of-Pauline" style...say, your hero is seen at the end next to a bomb that blows up---then in the next story, it's seen that he was clearly too far away from the explosion to have been killed.

But, then, you wanted something that didn't "suck," and a lot of those did...


On the other hand...Sherlock Holmes was never really the same after his death-and-return, and a lot of fans thought maybe he did die when he went over Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarity and the guy seen after was an impostor...if you want a death, you might consider it being final...

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Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, you're pulling a fast one on the audience. If the audience likes the character enough (I'm glad Coulsen is coming back--it just wouldn't be the same without him [Smile] ), or the author (like Crichton bringing Jeff Goldblum's character back apparently because the studios wanted him back [Smile] ), they'll be forgiving. But otherwise, it is a risky step. Cheating Death is one thing; cheating the audience is a whole lot riskier.

OTOH, killing off a character the audience knows is going to survive is a great plot twist. [Smile]

You could try the old switcheroo: kill a character with the same name and face as the sequel villian. That would at least allow death to be final.

Unfortunately, I can't think of a time (other than Lord of the Rings) where a major character was killed off/came back and it worked, so good luck.

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Member # 8019

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Audiences didn't like that Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Spock was resurrected in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Obvious to me, Spock was coming back. Filmmakers prepositioned and set up for the possibility, though I had doubts until he did return from death.

Those three principles, prepositioning (foreshadowing), setup, and raising doubt are foreground principles for dramatic writing related to your concerns.

A common shortcoming of dramas where a death and resurrection take place is insufficient or lack of artful prepositioning and setup. The death and resurrection tend to be coincidental to the plot and resolved by coincidences in afteraction scenes. Theoretically, prepositioning of the death and resurrection can begin in an opening scene.

Dramatic irony I feel is most on point. Given sufficient information to hope a cherished character will return or fear a despised character may return, audiences will respond appropriately and be delighted when their expectations are both met and surprisingly surpassed.

Considering that you have a prequel protagonist who is the main action's villain, a prequel villain who is the main action's protagonist, and the latter seemingly or actually dies in the prequel and is alive in the main action, the prequel is where to preposition and set up the main action's protagonist as living in the later action.

One possibility, the main protagonist plans his or her own demise for strategic purposes and the villain of that action similarly strives for the prequel villain's death, but circumstances go awry and he or she appears to actually die. Leave wide latitude for doubt, but have characters in the prequel be convinced he or she did die. The prequel's final crisis would then be that the prequel villain died. This seems to me to be the final outcome of the prequel action, the denouement. The opening then of the main action might begin with the prequel villain's medical, mental, emotional, or strategic recovery from his or her premature demise.

[ June 04, 2013, 12:56 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Another possibility is to use some kind of time warp (or time reboot).
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Member # 9757

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Try making your second villain the son, brother, father, uncle, clone of the first villain.
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Robert Nowall
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Of course you can't make it too obvious...you don't want your character to be Kenny-who-dies-in-every-episode-of-"South-Park," do you?
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Those three principles, prepositioning (foreshadowing), setup, and raising doubt are foreground principles for dramatic writing related to your concerns.

I agree, these are three key considerations. As OSC points out, you can do anything as long as you are willing to pay the price. In this case, the price is planning.

Also note that there is a careful path to tread here, the reader will doubt the villain's death, your main characters may look foolish if they don't doubt it too. The evidence of his/her demise will have to be compelling but circumstantial.

Another idea, (similar to KDW's), is to have the Villain#1 merely the Villain#2's henchman/faithful ally. It does not have to be obvious, but if you plan it this way the reader will be pleased but uneasy when Villain #1 expires.

BTW: This kind of thing can be a 'belly of the whale" for the Villain. If he/she comes back from it, they should be significatly changed by the experience and become AWESOME somehow. In this case, it is the death-experience the protagonist gives them that strengthens and perfects them. Think of it a 'the villain's journey' the monomyth in reverse. The dark to its light.

[ June 10, 2013, 03:23 AM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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I have people dying and coming back to life all the time, but my story involves time travel, so that might be cheating for you. Characters die, watch other versions of themselves die, and sometimes kill those versions themselves. Depending on your rules of time travel, this can be maddening or great fun.
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Member # 9345

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And then there's Stargate, where you're never entirely sure if someone is dead for good...
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