Fiction-Writing Problems: Best Ways to Bring a Character Back to Life?

When you suddenly want a dead character to return for a sequel.

Nick Kolakowski
3 min readDec 19, 2021

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Saying goodbye can really suck.

Way back in ye olden days of 2017, I wrote a noir novella titled A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps. It featured three central characters: Bill, a sarcastic and luxury-loving conman who wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was; Fiona, a hard-driving mob assassin (and Bill’s on-again, off-again girlfriend); and a nameless hitman, recently divorced, whose sanity begins to slip as he pursues Bill and Fiona across Oklahoma.

I wrote the chapters featuring Bill and Fiona in the third person; those with the hitman, in the first. It was a risky maneuver, switching perspectives like that, but the hitman’s voice was so compelling, so weird and feral and lively, that I felt the overwhelming urge to channel it. Plus, his rising insanity gave me the chance to deploy some of my sickest jokes.

Then I killed him.

It felt like the right thing to do. By the end of the novella, the character had completed his emotional arc and achieved something like redemption (or at least as much redemption as a weirdo mass murderer can hope to achieve). Shooting him down felt like the best idea, even if part of me hated to do it.

The following novellas in the series, Slaughterhouse Blues and Main Bad Guy, touched a bit on the hitman’s end, but their narratives skewed to focus almost entirely on Bill, Fiona, and (eventually) their extended families. The story swung from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to Cuba and, eventually, New York City. I liked how I wrapped things up; once the novellas were out in the world, I moved onto writing other books.

Then the unexpected happened. A German publisher wanted to publish all three novellas as a combined volume, which they did in 2020 — and the translated edition did well in Germany and surrounding countries. After that, Shotgun Honey, which originally published the novellas, wanted to do a combined edition in English (which came out last month).

And that gave me an opportunity to do something big. Perhaps not the wisest impulse, but the act of writing is often irrational.

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Nick Kolakowski

Writer, editor, author of 'Maxine Unleashes Doomsday' and 'Boise Longpig Hunting Club.'