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I'd like advice. I'm aware that many find the "dead all along" trope to be cliche. In searching for advice, most revolves around a protagonists interactions as, or with, a ghost, which doesn't quite fit my case.

In brief summary: my protagonists main goal and desire is finding a friend she was separated from as a child. Through her efforts, and many compounded conflicts, she unintentionally caused her friends death.

There is a larger scope to the plot point, as well as political critique. Though I'm concerned it may just go all over readers heads and result in disappointment.

Any advice on going about this? Red flags to avoid? Should I cue the reader in before the MC? Develop the death into a mystery? General thoughts?

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The big problem with the "Dead All Along" trope is that, if not handled well, it has the potential to lose audience investment. For example in your story you've established the main goal of the protagonist is to find the friend she was separated from as a child. This creates a desire in the audience to see them reunited, and that desire will grow the more obstacles the protagonist overcomes to achieve this goal.

The problem is that when the truth is revealed that the friend is dead, the audience will feel cheated of all that buildup. They will think "why did we spend all this time following the character when in the end their journey was pointless"? The longer an audience watches a sympathetic character struggle, the more they will want to see them succeed. It doesn't matter if the protagonist grew as an individual during the trip, that will still feel like a minor consolation prize compared to the disappointment that there will be no pay-off to the character's arc. This kind of thing does happen in real life all the time, but in general it's an emotion most people try to avoid because it's disappointing and comes off as a letdown.

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  • It's basically an implementation of a shaggy dog story. Mar 30 at 14:11

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