The first time I read a book where a key player — and kind of love interest — died, my jaw dropped.
The most recent time I read a book where the heroine’s love interest died, I threw the book down on the couch.
In the former, the dead character became a memory and a reason for the protagonist to move forward. In the latter, the author took it back. She brought him back to life later in the series. To make that work is very difficult, but when done just right it can make for a most compelling read.
Pulling off bringing a character back to life is hard enough, but doing so puts the author in a precarious situation. You can’t do it again. It’s pushing the limits, and you’re going to have to find another way to make your readers do a double take in the next book.
It needs to be a one-time shot, because it becomes easy, it makes readers never trust death or heartbreak.
As I write this I’m thinking to this week’s episode of The Vampire Diaries (recapped with oodles of spoilers here). If you haven’t watched the episode, skip this paragraph because I’m getting spoiler-y. When we first learned of these magical rings that would protect humans from supernatural death, it was shocking. Eyes bulged as we saw Alaric rise from the ground after his first death. Even knowing he couldn’t die, guts twisted when Damon snapped Jeremy’s neck just to make Elena hurt. A couple seasons later, they decided to spice it up and give us a consequence to Alaric dying so much and coming back. He had to make the choice to die for real. The scenes were beautiful and made me tear up, but we couldn’t trust that he would really die. Instead the writers’ had his hand forced, making him return as an enhanced vampire. All the emotions we should get to feel were ripped away.
Readers and television viewers can’t fully appreciate a death in the series, if the hardest ones are always saved. Once or twice builds character and shocks fans, more than that and you’re cheating us of a full emotional ride. It may not leave characters in a happy-for-now state, but they can still find a new, different happy ending after suffering tragedy.