This one’s a fan favorite. A veritable classic. Ever since Sherlock Holmes was killed in The Final Problem, fans have demanded that popular characters make a comeback against all odds. Sometimes, the writer finds themselves rooting with the crowd: they loved their character, maybe even more than the crowd. Who doesn’t want to see old, dead characters returning home?
Well…it’s more complicated than that. Bringing someone who was previously thought to be dead back to life? That is an enormous undertaking. On what basis do you resurrect them? Just simply “because you want to”? At the behest of fans? To save a certain plot theme from going rotten?
Be careful, now. Bringing characters back from their respective demises can easily turn into a plot hole of its own. The biggest problem, “how did you survive?” is often left unanswered (sometimes intentionally, which I’ll explain later in the post) or, even worse, answered lamely. “Oh, I just crawled under some rubble and eluded guards until I got here” is not even close to good enough.
In addition, some characters ought not to be brought back. Stories are meant to have ends, as all things that have a beginning. You can enjoy the ride while it’s on, but when the time comes to get off, get off. The same goes for characters who ought to stay dead: if they’ve said their final words, if they’ve avenged their ancestors, if they’ve achieved their goals, then it might be a good idea to let their tale fade into legend.
Just know when to let sleeping dogs lie. (Or, in this case, leave dead characters in their graves.) Resurrect appropriately, and certainly not for no reason. “I might need this character later” is not good enough. “I will need this character for a specific event in the future” is what you want. Do this purposefully and intentionally.
So, you think you have a character who has some unsaid words, a pact to settle, or a vendetta that’s unfulfilled. You make plans for a grand re-entrance. When doing this, ask yourself: what would be a fitting time for this reentrance? If the character is planning the reentrance, get inside their head: if I were him/her, where would I want to come back into the plot?
Always pick a time that will excite feelings of joy or fear, depending on the character that is resurrected. If it’s a hero, you want them to have a “good-to-have-ya-back” feeling or a “Gandalf-has-returned” one alternatively. With a villain, a “I-should-have-known” or a “but-you-died-in-such-and-such-a-place” feeling will suffice. Remember, it has to be important, for goodness’ sake.
Then, the character tells their story. It is paramount to explain how they escaped. Because this character was dead in the reader’s mind until recently, it is customary for the resurrected character to say how they almost died, but didn’t. Characters this way might bear signs of being brutalized (bionic limbs, eyepatches, crutches and casts, and so on).
Now, here’s the ultimate loophole: maybe you can’t figure out how they escape. They won’t have a story to tell, and the most important question will not be answered. In this case, shroud in secrecy the story of how they escaped. The reader will then begin to feel suspicion towards the character, and may mistrust them. This sets you up for the true story (which may be horrific or contain details the reader wouldn’t expect) or a betrayal.
That’s the secret method for getting around resurrected characters with no escape story, and it can sometimes be better than someone without. However, this kind of character is often a traitor, so if your goal was to resurrect someone who isn’t really fit for that role normally, be darn sure you cook up a good escape story instead.
Good luck, and happy writing!