16

This story is about a person in a sort of technologically advanced secret government organization that is basically SCP.

The organization is very advanced and, in most cases, can revive dead people.

I haven't yet published a chapter in which any character dies and is revived, but plan on doing it a lot later on.

How many revives is too much?

12
  • 3
    Revives per person or a total?
    – A.bakker
    Oct 22 '20 at 13:43
  • 1
    @A.bakker, both are acceptable but ill probably be focusing more on the main character so per person might be more helpful. Oct 22 '20 at 13:49
  • 1
    If you are not making Edge of Tomorrow look trivial, that is a non-issue, imho.
    – Alexander
    Oct 22 '20 at 16:38
  • Revive the dead... as in fix a singlular dead body? Or something similar to, say, altered carbon where the dead is moved into another body (maybe even a clone) - altered-carbon.fandom.com/wiki/Cortical_Stack ?
    – WernerCD
    Oct 22 '20 at 22:44
  • @WernerCD, revive the dead...if they havent been dead to long Oct 22 '20 at 22:45

13 Answers 13

21

Bit of a world building answer, but in a world with fictional aspects it is best to create some ground rules the characters have to abide by (in my opinion it's always better to first create the world, then the characters and at last the story).

Make it imperfect.

Each time a character is resurrected, the character sustains unfixable (mental) damage, that way you can justify restrictions on how many times a person can (legally) be resurrected seeing they will eventually become dangerous. Or damage to the heart that eventually becomes too much to be resurrected.

Scarcity in resources.

The resources are so hard to get that it becomes too expensive to keep doing it without good (financial) reasons. Or make it a trade issue, you require somebody else to die to bring somebody back...this would make it harder to do so (and when it comes to moral implications you can justify it by using criminals as sacrifice).

By having such rules in place it would become easier for you to decide when it becomes too much. Be it due to the moral conflicts or financial restraints the main character has to deal with.

2
  • 2
    See also Sanderson's Second Law: Limitations > Power. brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-second-law
    – Wolfgang
    Oct 22 '20 at 21:43
  • If the point of view is from the character sustaining unfixable mental damage then this could be an interesting opportunity for trying to change writing styles to emphasis that the person didn't come back alright.
    – kionay
    Oct 23 '20 at 15:28
14

It significantly lowers all the stakes in a narrative when death isn't permanent. Even once is enough for the audience to no longer take death seriously as a threat. That can raise significant challenges for you, as a writer. You're running the risk of building a cartoonish, video-game universe, with lots of violence and gore, but no lasting consequences --and accordingly, no way to make people care. So, you'll need to find other ways to build tension and uncertainty into the narrative.

Some of the ways other writers have dealt with this problem are by putting a hard limit on the number of lives (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, or The Lives of Christopher Chant). In other narratives, dying comes with significant costs (memories, mental health, pain, resources). Or, in other narratives, permanent death is still a possibility under some circumstances.

1
  • In "Log Horizon", characters lose some of their memories every time they respawn. In "Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts", there's an immortal species that can be permanently killed by "something silly". Oct 23 '20 at 21:42
8

Bring them back as much as you want, just make sure that they have other conflicts, motivations, things they fear. One simple way to do it is how they did it in Edge Of Tomorrow.

5
  • 1
    Another one is "Altered Carbon" on Netflix. Oct 23 '20 at 8:00
  • How did they do it in Edge Of Tomorrow? I assume you don't mean the actual Groundhog Day part, but it's been a while since I've watched it. I believe the idea was that the main character did in fact not have endless retries, but I don't remember it exactly. Wasn't it only because it was possible for him to stop the loop and potentially die permanently if he got a blood transfusion? Or was there more to it than that? Also: How is that a simple and appliable way for the OP?
    – Mark
    Oct 23 '20 at 9:34
  • Early in Edge of Tomorrow, death meant nothing to the audience and it meant little to the protagonist. This was fine; the audience still cared what happened. On the other hand, the transfusion plotline was a bit forced; the writers had written themselves into a corner and lacked a good way to force the final showdown to have narrative weight.
    – Brian
    Oct 23 '20 at 13:29
  • 2
    @Brian I agree on the first part. The transfusion plotline was already established with the protagonist's mentor (the Angel of Verdun) having had the same happen to her. She even warns him to kill himself when he gets injured lest he get a transfusion. Oct 23 '20 at 13:31
  • @JannPoppinga: I'm not saying the story wasn't careful to justify the limitation. However, it still felt tacked on, partly because the writers relied far more heavily on tell than show when explaining it.
    – Brian
    Oct 23 '20 at 13:46
8

So, don't your characters remember dying?

I'd think the memories of the pain, shock, and horror of a violent death would deter people from dying more than necessary.

"Too much" is when your characters begin to hate the whole cycle.

  • Do dangerous job
  • Die a nasty, violent death while carrying out job.
  • Revive, and go back to doing a dangerous job.
  • Die another gory, horrifying death
  • Repeat until the poor sucker has had enough and shows the people running the organization just how much it sucks to be killed in some nasty way.
2
  • this is like what happened in "The Sixth Day" with Arnold Schwarzenegger Oct 23 '20 at 21:45
  • Re:Zero is also a great example that portrays the torturous psychological effects of having to die gruesomely and then get up and do it all over again. Oct 26 '20 at 19:17
8

There is no fixed answer to "how many revives is too many" because how a character's resurrection comes across to the reader is entirely dependent on context. If the revive system is just there to allow you to kill of and resurrect characters, thus eliminating any real danger from your story, ONCE is too many. But if the revive system is part of a larger world building system, and there are still things at stake, the answer is "as many times as you feel necessary."

As other answers pointed out, it is all dependent on what the consequences are for the characters, and the way that the resurrection is worked into the plot. Others have mentioned "Edge of Tomorrow" as a good example of seemingly infinite revives that don't deminish (and in this case are actually a keystone to the plot of) the story. I would add the netflix show "Altered Carbon" as another example. In that universe, normal death isn't necessarily permanent, as you can just be rebooted (but there are a lot of different factors that affect whether you will be or not, such as economic status, and also some consequences even if you are, such as potentially having to adjust to a new body. all these things help keep the whole narrative engaging.) Additionally, there is a form a death still that IS permanent, because if the part of you that is used to reboot you is lost, you're gone for good. So in this case there is a system that allows for supposedly infinite resurrections, but there is still a lot at stake and still a risk of permanent death.

To summarize: Context is everything. Set things up wrong, and you'll lose your reader's investment in the story. Set it up well, and you can resurrect as many people as you like as often as you need without losing the reader, because you have other things at stake to keep them interested.

3

One rule I’ve created in my own work no matter how agonizing it is for me is:

I am never ever allowed to bring my characters back to life.

For me this answer is pretty simple. It might be different for other authors, but my whole problem kind of centers around death. The antagonist is killing everyone, which is why they need to stop her. If they can bring people back to life then death has no meaning, and the antagonist literally just punches them every once in a while. Resurrection makes my whole book pointless.

For you however, resurrection is a part of your story. If people are killed, have that happen only once in a while because we know what is gong to happen and the killing part is only a setback. It’s not meaningful.

3

I am surprised that no one has mentioned this one.

What did they miss out on because of the resurrections?

If you were assigned to protect a target and jumped in front of them instead of dragging them to safety and was killed as a result, did your target survive? Maybe without your sacrifice the target could have survived but instead they lost your protection and died.

Knowing you had resurrection can change your actions and make you more reckless. Despite being able to revive, the tasks you leave unfinished, consequences of recklessness, and the items you may leave on your body can all be great reasons to try to survive.

3

Many questions like this can be answered by taking Sanderson's First Law of Magics, and labeling your particular technology as "magic":

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

Its really quite the incredible writing tool. It works for anything. You can apply it to "resurrection" or "making toast." If you solve conflict by making toast, you better hope the reader understands it!

Most likely you are using this resurrection as a tool to resolve conflict. I say this because you're questioning "what is too much," and that's a good sign you're concerned about this too. So you need to make sure that your readers understand enough of this magic.

Obviously there are rules to something like resurrection they will need to understand, but the most important understandings they will get about such a thing is in the show-don't-tell category. A tool which can resurrect people is a massive culture shaping force the likes of which have never been seen in all of mankind. Show it. If your world treats death like we do, multiple resurrections are going to start to feel cheap very quickly. On the other hand, if resurrections are part of the culture, you are going to see whispers of it in every single corner of society.

If the resurrections are limited to a small class of individuals, they will be the ones whose culture is completely underpinned by this capability. Others will be affected by the need to resolve this "unnatural" power.

Case studies I would consider:

  • Doctor Who. Known for its famously pliable cannon, it had the idea of "regenerations." This idea existed mostly to support changing of main actors from time to time, but in 1976 it was given an in world frame: a Time Lord could only regenerate 12 times. This reality then started to shape the way characters behaved, particularly the Time Lords and those who interacted with timelords for multiple millinia. Recently, due to having more than 12 people play the doctor, the writers had to explain why The Doctor got a 13th resurrection, resolving a major conflict -- with death itself. They applied considerable effort to make the viewer understand this before the death occurred. Even so, fan opinions are mixed.
  • The Azgard from Stargate SG-1. This is a species which used cloning to cheat death for thousands of years. You see it, both in big reveals bout the costs of cloning and their approach to warfare with the Goa'uld. Everything is consistent with how the species as a whole dealt with their immortality.
  • Countless vampire books discuss the cost of immortality. Some even deal with it in terms of resurrection. They mostly avoid resolving conflict with this capability. In fact, they cause internal conflict with it. As a result, there's no particular need for the viewer/reader to understand the magic all that much. It is simply accepted as presented.
1
  • "If you solve conflict by making toast, you better hope the reader understands it!" haha i love that! Oct 23 '20 at 21:50
2

Have you read Endymion by Dan Simmons? People are routinely resurrected using a "cruciform" attached to their body. Space travel actually involves no protection against G - indeed ships are designed to accelerate as hard as possible and pulp the occupants almost immediately. The resulting bloody mess is then resurrected at the other end. Ships can only go so far, so long missions can involve lots of deaths and resurrections.

It probably isn't a spoiler to say that the "cruciforms" turn out to not be a good thing.

The number of resurrections isn't a factor in whether the book works though. However the fact of resurrection existing certainly is a key element of the story, and it should be in yours too.

1

I'm going to post the complete opposite of A. bakker's reply, basing it on The 6th Day

As many times as you like

Make that a feature. Make everyone completely blasé about death. The tension comes from the destruction of the technology to do it, not from any inbuilt weaknesses of the resurrected characters.

The realisation of the potential of permanent death from characters used to treating it like a minor inconvenience is pretty powerful.

Also explored in some Culture books, where members do not store themselves before risky activities as a low tech "kink".

1

There are alternatives to death to consider. There can be meaningful consequences that don't involve death. For example, a character could break a bone, lose a super power, lose a close friend, or be disabled in some way. This increases the challenge for the character, lets the antagonist have some kind of a victory, and lets you have meaningful consequences without having to revive a character.

  • For example, in "Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts", one antagonist tried to enslave humanity with a mind control serum, and another one tried to turn all the anthro characters into regular animals.
  • And in "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power", Adora breaks her sword, losing her main power, increasing the challenge for her going forward.
  • Tony Stark gets PTSD after the events of "Avengers".
  • Hela's might is shown in "Thor Ragnarok" not by having her kill important characters, but by having her destroy Thor's hammer, his greatest weapon.
  • Hiccup loses a leg in "How to Train Your Dragon" instead of dying.
  • Viren traps Runaan in a coin in "The Dragon Prince".
  • In "The Dresden Files: Grave Peril", Susan gets turned into a vampire, which becomes a new obstacle.
  • The Toa Metru are transformed into hideous monsters in "Bioncle Adventures 7: Web of the Visorak".

There's multiple ways to have permanent consequences without killing a character and requiring a resurrection.

1

I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned here, but this can and does happen in our current world with current technology, to a certain degree.

While the line dividing life and death is one that you and I might hope to only ever approach once, there are people suffering from drug addictions who play hopscotch with that line. They have better odds of crossing back to this side if there's somebody with Narcan nearby. In some places, local government agents ("very advanced" is arguable) are the ones carrying and delivering that revival treatment.

1

SCP Foundation website has this.

The Samsara Mobile Task Force is comprised of 4 semisynthetic individuals who can be restored from backup copies or regenerated, apparently indefinitely. As I understand it, individuals restored from backup do not have memories of the mission on which they were killed; they are brought up to speed by their comrades who survived the mission, if any. Individuals might be terminated and restored from backup if they are corrupted somehow, infected by contagious memes and so on.

I think being revivable is either a one time amazing thing (Bible style) or a recurring possibility (done in the above SCPs and many other fictions; I think of Highlander). You can get energy for your writing with interactions between revivable entities, their memories, experiences, and altered attitude towards death.

Depending on the rules for restoring, you could restore from backup while the original (perhaps thought to be dead) survives in some fashion and shows up later. Or you could produce a legion of one individual from backup. I think the Samsara force members are made of special stuff and must bring back some piece of the individual to be restored, because otherwise I am sure they would make more; these folks are useful.

Also there is potential energy between nonrevivables and revivables - one SCP has the reaction of a team being sent in alongside the Samsara force. This other team knows Samsara is sent when there is a high likelihood of members being killed.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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