Four Classic Ways To Bring A Character Back From The Dead

2016 Artwork Resurrecting characters article sketch

Although it cheapens the dramatic value of any deaths in your story or comic whenever you resurrect a character, there are sometimes good dramatic reasons for bringing back a character that your audience believed was dead. So, how do you do this?

Here are a few popular ways that writers, directors, comic makers etc… have brought their characters back from the dead. Needless to say, this article may contain SPOILERS for several things (including Sherlock Holmes, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Supernatural” and “The Blackwell Epiphany”)

1) It was all fake: The classic “realistic” way to bring back a dead character is to reveal that they actually faked their death. Provided you can think of a logical explanation for both how and why they did this, then this technique can work fairly well.

It’s also easier to use this technique if the other characters don’t actually see your “dead” character’s body. However, thanks to this technique being used so often, the lack of a body is usually a giveaway that a particular character will be brought back to life later.

The classic example of this technique in action is, of course, at the beginning of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes”. At the end of “The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes”, Watson learns from a note that Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Moriarty fall to their deaths above the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. In “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes”, it’s revealed that Holmes actually flung Moriarty to his death, but then faked his own death to avoid reprisals from Moriarty’s henchmen.

However, this wasn’t the first time that Sherlock Holmes re-appeared after his “death”. Which brings us on to….

2) Prequels and flashbacks: This is another “realistic” way to bring a character back. It’s also a way of bringing a character back, without actually bringing them back. All you have to do is to tell a new story that is set before the character’s death, or to include scenes where other characters have new memories of times that they spent with the “dead” character when they were still alive.

The classic example of this is, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. Although it was written several years after “The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes” was written and a while before “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes” was written, this novel is set several years before Holmes’ “death” on the Reichenbach Falls. This allowed Conan Doyle to write about Holmes again, without having to bring him back.

3) Science: If you’re writing a sci-fi story, then there are plenty of ways that you can bring your characters back to life. You can make clones of them (which gives you the chance to change a few things about the character’s personality), you can find alternate versions of them in parallel universes or you can simply bring them back to life using futuristic technology.

The important thing to remember here is that your characters should be changed somewhat by this experience. In other words, if you want it to retain it’s dramatic value, then it needs to be used as a tool for further character development.

A classic example of this can be found in the modern version of “Battlestar Galactica”. In the early seasons of the show, a character called Boomer learns that she is actually a Cylon agent (a group of humanoid robots who are trying to eliminate humanity).

Her programming causes her to try to kill the captain – although she is arrested for this, she is later shot by one of the crew members in retaliation. Being a Cylon, the contents of her mind are downloaded to a new body on board a Cylon “resurrection ship” and, thanks to her experiences, she gradually begins to sympathise more with the Cylons.

Another classic example would, of course, be “Doctor Who”. In this long-running TV series, The Doctor (thanks to his alien biology) has the ability to resurrect himself a certain number of times. This works well in the context of the show since this ability is only really used when the makers of the show want to replace the actor who plays The Doctor with another actor. Since The Doctor’s personality and appearance change after every resurrection, this ensures that his “death” still has a serious impact on the show every time it happens.

Likewise, the classic sci-fi sitcom “Red Dwarf” begins with virtually all of the characters being killed in a reactor accident. Whilst one of the main characters ( Dave Lister) survives because he was in stasis at the time, another one of the main cast ( Arnold Rimmer) is brought back to life as a sentient hologram.

4) Magic, ghosts and/or zombies: This one is fairly self-explanatory, and it can work well in both the fantasy and horror genres. The thing to remember here is that, like in the sci-fi genre, resurrecting a character should be used as an opportunity for character development (except, of course, if your character is resurrected as a zombie).

Many, many examples of this kind of thing can be found in an excellent horror-themed TV show called “Supernatural”. Both of the main characters die and return to life at least once (due to angels and/or demons bringing them back). Likewise, in one season of the show, another important character called Bobby dies. This is, of course, followed by a long sub-plot about his ghost trying to contact the other main characters and about his experiences as a ghost (and, later, his experiences in the afterlife).

One interesting twist on this idea can be found in a stunningly dramatic computer game called “The Blackwell Epiphany”. This is the final game in a series of detective/horror/puzzle games set in the present day, where you play as a psychic medium (Rosa) who is accompanied by a ghost from the 1930s (called Joey). They meet other ghosts, investigate their deaths and help them to cross over into the afterlife.

At the end of the game, Joey is resurrected (albeit at the cost of Rosa’s life). He goes from being a ghost to being an actual person again. The final scenes of the game focus on Joey’s reactions to being alive again and about how he still remembers being a ghost, but prefers being alive. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet moment and it contains a lot of character development.

So, yes, if you’re going to use “magic” to resurrect your characters, then you need to include character development too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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