month week, I talked about the difficult task of writing character deaths. This time, we’re going to talk about undoing all that hard work and bringing the character back to life. I’m not going to talk about why and when you should bring characters back to life, as this is really dependent on the needs of the narrative. Keep in mind that it should be used sparingly, however, as character resurrection is the biggest risk to suspension of disbelief that an author can run.
As I said last time, if your work has even the faintest whiff of magic or the supernatural, the topic of resurrection is bound to come up. It’s important to establish whether it’s possible or not – and if so, the rules surrounding it – right off the bat.
In this regard, Harry Potter is probably one of the best examples. It’s established in book 1 that death is a permanent state and no magic can bring a person back. There are ways to stave off death – remaining as a ghost or, as we learn later, making a horcrux – but death itself is a one-way ticket. Because of this, characters (and readers) are allowed to process death in realistic and reasonable ways, and the experience is more powerful because of it.
In the series Supernatural is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s established in the first season that there is an afterlife, that reapers are the agents of death that escort spirits to their final resting place, and that Hell and demons exist. By season 2, we know that the only way people have been brought back to life are through deals with a crossroads demon. These deals have firmly established rules – the demon is the one in control of the bargain, and a soul is usually on the table – which not only ground us but give us stakes. There’s always a cost, and it’s a very high one. By season 4 and the introduction of angels, however, the gloves come off. The angels have free reign over bringing people back to life – Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, Adam Milligan, Samuel Campbell, and Castiel. It suddenly becomes a running gag of how many times Sam and Dean can get killed, so much so that season 11 has to introduce the concept of an outer void of no return so that death can actually have stakes.
Then we have Once Upon a Time, which is a bit of a mess in this regard. It’s established that death is death, and people do not come back to life in this show. Then season 3 has Rumpelstiltskin come back to life after sacrificing himself to kill Peter Pan, because the portal through which Dark Ones are born is apparently a respawn checkpoint. Within the same season, we have Snow White resurrecting Prince Charming after his heart is crushed by giving him half of her own. The explanation here is that as true lovers they have one heart – I guess Charming’s was superfluous all along? And that hearts don’t pump blood in this world? By the end of season 5, Captain Hook is brought back to life as a reward for “helping” defeat Hades – and I can’t make those quotations big enough – because Zeus is just in a really good mood, I guess. Was no one else before this ever heroic enough to warrant a return to life?
Resurrection is a can of worms, and it’s important to have a drip pan in the form of established rules and boundaries to catch all the mess that’s inevitably going to come pouring out.