7

So I have a main character who will die at the end of the first book. In the next book he will be alive, but nobody knows it. Everyone thinks he is still dead. How can I do this without using cliches and boring the reader?

closed as off-topic by linksassin, Cyn, Josh, JP Chapleau, eyeballfrog Jun 18 at 22:18

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question appears to be off-topic because asking what to write or asking for help rephrasing a sentence or passage are both off-topic here, as such questions are very unlikely to help anybody else." – linksassin, Cyn, Josh, JP Chapleau, eyeballfrog
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE touka chan. Please check out our tour and help center. I've edited your question to fix the formatting, grammar, etc. And also to make it more on topic. Asking for ideas is off topic here (because it's asking what to write) but asking for how to accomplish something is okay. Your question is still pretty borderline though and I don't know if it will stay open. But welcome and do stick around. – Cyn Jun 18 at 2:00
  • 1
    What kind of narration/POV are you using in these books? – Solocutor Jun 18 at 15:19
  • 6
    Is he really dead or does everyone just think he's dead? – colmde Jun 18 at 15:28
  • Everyone thinks he is dead but he is not. – touka chan Jun 19 at 0:40
  • 2
    Isn't bringing back a dead character a cliche in itself? – Jens Schauder Jun 19 at 5:24
3

The first rule of cheating Death in Fiction is "No Body, No Crime". You have to fool the audience into thinking the character is dead, by showing them entering the death trap... but not showing the body after the trap is sprung. This can be tricky and you'll need to work out how to put your character in a spot that they can survive but not.

In real life, there are incredible acts of survival that shouldn't be. I've seen stories of sky divers whose chutes failed to deploy and hit the ground at terminal velocity and lived. (They are not fighting ready, to be sure, but they do not die). But in fiction you want to avoid this... it may be real in reality, but in fiction it's unrealistic. And in some genres, your readers will not buy it for a second. Superhero fiction has been so plagued by dead characters being resurrected, that the default reaction of any death of a character is "He'll be back". Doubly so if they're a member of the X-Men. In fact, among comic fans, there used to be a saying that only three deaths are permanent in comics: Uncle Ben (Spider-Man), Bucky Barnes (Captain America), and Jason Todd (Second Robin). And two of those were resurrected! Every trick in the book to resurrect characters has been used here; so that, when writing the comic series 52, which was a series that had one issue every week, one character was scripted to fake his death and the writers had several close calls because they couldn't convincingly "kill" the guy without the fans thinking it over and concluding he's not really dead.

Best advice is to kill the guy, mourn him, miss him, and have him return at the time where he is most needed to assist and not a moment sooner. Either that or have him pull a Tom Sawyer and crash his own funeral... that's always fun.

25

I think the main thing you need to do is figure out what tropes are connected to coming back from the dead, and which of those you want to avoid. This TVTropes page might help. Keep in mind that a common trope need not necessarily be boring - they're common because they're popular.

That being said, there's a lot of overused ideas in connection to characters being revived. I'm mainly familiar with this trope in connection to superhero movies, so that's what I'll talk about.

  1. Do it for a reason.

    Does this character's 'death' do anything other than giving his companions something to angst about? IMO, fake deaths just for the sake of drama are unnecessary. Having your other characters develop in a way that wouldn't be possible without this death is one possible route you can take.

    For example, iirc, Gandalf's death both created conflict in their group and forced the other characters to fill his position as a leader, mediator, etc.

  2. Deus ex machina

    What better way to let the readers know their beloved character is alive than by having him jump in at the last minute and save the day? Quite a few ways, I would hope.

    Convenient surprise reveals like this can come off as a hastily closed plot hole. I'm not saying it would be bad to do a reveal like this, but I think some foreshadowing is necessary if you want to go this route.

  3. Coming back different

    This is a pretty common trope. Character A is back, but he's different! He's now got way cooler powers (Gandalf, again), or he's evil (Superman), or he's actually a clone/robot/shapeshifter!

    It's okay for the character to be changed by his experience, but these are some common things writers do and readers expect. You can always play around with your readers' expectations too, depending on who the book is aimed at.

  4. Don't do it too often

    Now this might not apply to you, but I'm just gonna put it out there. Marvel is super guilty of this. Loki has impermanently died in every Thor movie, and that's given a lot of people on the Internet the impression that he can't die for real.

    (Infinity war spoiler)

    So when he does die in Infinity War, it doesn't have any real emotional impact to those people, especially since he implies that he'll be back.

    Similarly, I don't really feel anything when an X-man dies - I'm pretty sure everyone except

    Cyclops

    has come back to life a couple of times.

TL;DR : Cliches aren't always boring, but they are predictable. There's nothing wrong with predictability in a story if it's well executed. Familiarize yourself with the cliches related to your idea and then skip as many as you want. Executing a cliche well is generally at least as good as subverting it.

  • 1
    And if it still feels too cliche for the writer's taste, it is okay to have characters in universe comment on how cliche something is. Also known as lampshading, which can help the readers maintain their sense of disbelief. – Anketam Jun 18 at 19:54
7

Writers have told me that for my stories believability follows understandability.

If the ‘what happens’ is something that is explained and makes sense in the story, then people will believe it and accept it.

So, if your character is actually thought to be dead at the end of the first book, but really was alive, and that was important to the story, then in the next exciting episode we learn the character didn’t drive over the cliff and burn up in the car crash but hid so he could carry out his goals of defeating the Evil M’s international web of criminality.

Or, if your character really did die defeating a balrog but the powers that govern the world put her back in because she was needed, then she becomes Gandalfina the White. Or maybe your character comes back as a zombie, reanimated by a pissed off voudon priest that the character stiffed for $200 that the character borrowed from the voudon priest. So the voudon priest puts the zombie to work washing dishes and bussing tables until the debt is cleared.

So don’t really worry about cliches, just make it fit your story and explain it clearly and people will be chill with it.

2

Don't, The best works of art introduce new characters instead of bringing back dead ones. In real life, people don't come back. So introduce a new character, maybe with some similar character traits, or something else reminiscent of the endeared deceased, if that is what you are looking for. Remember, people don't come back from the dead (with extremely rare exclusions) but there are darned close to infinite number of people (as far as we can relate to anyway) so you need never run out of different, yet admirable characters to carry the story on.

Furthermore, do not be afraid of character depth. Real people do things for reasons that do not make sense to everyone. People do bad things with good intentions, vice versa. and sometimes people you think you can trust to do the right thing when necessary fall short. all of these very real aspects of life return exquisite storytelling.

1

That depends what sort of story this is. And how you killed the character off.

If the story is set in a fantasy universe, you could have the character brought back with a magic spell. If it's a science fiction story, you might be able to posit some technology that brings him back.

Failing that, I presume you would have to say that he was not really dead, that the idea that he was dead was a mistake. Whether you can make that believable depends on how you killed him. If he was gunned down in front of 20 eye witnesses, and several people who knew him identified the body, and he was then cremated, it could be pretty tough to explain how this was all a mistake and he's really still alive. On the other hand, if he was a soldier in a combat zone and didn't return from a mission and was declared "presumed dead", saying he wasn't really dead after all isn't too implausible.

In general, I think bringing a character back from the dead is tricky. Usually if I see such a thing in a story, I say, "Oh brother, the author changed his mind about killing off this character and now he's trying to bring him back." Like many things in writing, it depends if you do it well or poorly.

Two factors in doing it well: 1. Plausibility. The more you have to explain away the worse it is. 2. Foreshadowing. If before the character is killed, you drop some hints that he's planning to fake his own death or whatever the circumstances, then when you do it later the reader doesn't feel as cheated. Then it doesn't look like you just changed your mind.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.