Last week I talked about deus ex machina (DEM). This time, I thought of a concept not too far from it, and that’s bringing a character that had no choice but to die back to life for a very poor or no reason. Oh…he was just sleeping, right? A lot of the time we anger our readers/viewers by killing off main characters. It’s not great to see them go, and sometimes it is necessary to cut off their lives to make the plot work. Other times, death is completely unnecessary and is just added for drama, which is a sign of equally poor storytelling. When can you bring characters back to life?
1) For an act of selflessness that is weighed by equal consequence. Such as the sacrifice of another life.
2) The thing that will save them has been around since the beginning.
3) They are saved by a god-like force because they still have a very important purpose to serve. This is borderline DEM, but depending on the plot and who has authority over life, it can work. For instance, if a bunch of people are sick with the plague but there is only one antidote, a character may choose to bring one of them back because they hold certain significance. This presents a conflict of choice but also gives weight and expectation to the life of the character.
One “famous” comeback is of course in Harry Potter. The first time, I could buy it because Harry’s mother sacrificed herself for him. And, let’s face it, it is a story about magic. The second time, despite his sacrifice, it made little sense that he would live when his mother and other characters had to die.
Another story that obviously used a comeback was Pirates of the Caribbean, where Jack Sparrow died and even had a mourning ceremony, but since, hey, there’s voodoo magic and Hell on Earth, why not bring him back? To this end, however, I’ll have to agree. Characters don’t need to die just for the sake of violence. The difference between this and bringing Harry back to life is that the other characters in PotC literally had to go to the ends of the earth to bring back Jack, which meant staking all their lives and more.
True, it may feel like viewers/readers are sometimes fooled into believing a character is dead when they’re magically not, but the author also has a difficult decision to make. Sometimes it’s not right to kill a character because it’s just unnecessary loss that doesn’t make anyone else grow. In Harry Potter and even The Hunger Games (as well as many other stories I’d rather not list), a bunch of characters died off-screen for no reason other than to rank up the body count. The lack of an emotional response to their death, in fact, makes it even more worthless, whereas when characters are brought back, a wave of appreciation often overwhelms the reader and other characters.
Do you know of any resurrections? Did they work?
-The Story Addict
This week’s special indie feature includes some great fantasy books. Keep calm and read on!