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The main character of a story dies before the story itself ends. Nothing new here, you can keep a story interesting following their death. But I have an additional requirement: The dead main character has to exert influence to the story world even following their death (diminished capacity acceptable), and I'm wondering about ways to achieve this.

This is for interactive fiction, where the reader gets to make choices on behalf of the main character. I'm exploring death as a possible consequence of those choices, but don't want that to stop further choices down the line completely.

An afterlife of some sort is one possibility; undeath, e.g., becoming a ghost, appearing in other characters' dreams, having their consciousness stored in a computer... What other ways are there?

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Welcome to Writers! While a fascinating concept, this question is difficult to answer in its current form, since we'd have to speculate about the story to answer it, or just throw out a list of possibilities. That would make this little better than a discussion-forum thread (even if an extremely well-written one, given the users here). Possible ways to improve it: Could you go into more detail about the story and its world? Why, specifically, is it important that this character influence the world after their death? –  Neil Fein May 23 '12 at 7:49
    
@NeilFein: Disagree; I think the question is fine as it stands. See meta.writers.stackexchange.com/questions/136/… - the consensus is that a broad request for tropes is better than a hyper-specific "what should I write next?" question. –  Standback May 23 '12 at 7:59
    
@NeilFein: Don't have a story or world yet - Need to figure out a satisfactory way to achieve what the question asks first, to know if it's worth writing at all. As for the "why": This is for interactive fiction - a game, essentially - where the player (reader) gets to make choices on behalf of the main character. As a game, a penalty for poor choices is needed; I'm exploring death as a possibility. But I still want to tell the/a story, even if the main character dies, but as a game, the player still needs to be presented with choices, lest it cease to be a game. Should I add that above? –  Core Xii May 23 '12 at 9:18
    
@CoreXii: Oooooh. I love IF :D Have fun! Yes, adding that above would be helpful - it gives a much more concrete direction of what you're looking for (and blocks off certain answers, e.g. "The character leaves a will dictating what everybody else should do"). Also, gamedev.stackexchange.com might be helpful here - though I think this is on target here, too. –  Standback May 23 '12 at 9:24
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Like Dumbledore! –  Aerovistae May 23 '12 at 14:15
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4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

As I see it, there are two possible ways for a character to influence others after death, but each has a number of variations.

First, the character could directly influence others after death. This would involve some sort of continued existence either magical or supernatural in origin. Some examples:

  • Ghost (or any other non-material existence after death, such as a poltergeist, or other spirit)
  • Uploaded brain (into a computer or robot)
  • Cloning (depending on how magical the cloning process is -- in a more realistic universe, a clone would be an identical twin born later, not a repeat of the original person)
  • Time travel (which stretches the limits of "after")
  • Resurrection (same person coming back)
  • Reincarnation (returning as a different person)

Another way for a character to exert influence after death is not to actually be there but to leave some sort of intentional legacy.

  • A will
  • Letters to loved (or hated) people
  • Bequest with ongoing results, such as founding a charitable organization or school

Unintentional legacies are also possible

  • Inspirational speech
  • Taught a significant skill or piece of knowledge to another character
  • WWDGD: What Would Dead Guy Do? (In other words, a life philosophy built around that of the dead guy, who acts as a moral guide for the living character.)
  • Published knowledge that helps others (Dr. Dead Guy's research suggests that we can find the solution to our problems in this star system.)
  • Unpublished documents that come to light after the death (see Emily Dickinson).

And one that straddles the border between intentional and unintentional:

  • Children
  • Parts of the body, either from donated organs or in the form of frozen sperm/eggs/other material
  • Genetic legacies, particularly in terms of diseases that might get passed along
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I'm loving the latter half, about the legacies; excellent ideas. The main character writing a book is quite brilliant. –  Core Xii May 24 '12 at 6:39
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Depending on your entire scenario, you have, I think, three options.

  1. The "ghost" route, whereby the departed exerts influence by appearing in an ethereal form to the various characters. Of course, this has to be consistent with the worldview already expressed, AND you need to explain why there are not hundreds of spirits hanging around, continuing to influence events.

  2. The "lasting influence" route, where the impacts of the person while they were alive continue to have influence and impact after their deaths, so other characters do what the dead person would have wanted. This can be explicit, with instructions having been given to certain people. Obviously, there is no ability to react to events, but there is also no need to explain the continuing influence.

  3. If you re sci-fi focused, you could have the remnants of the persons conscience uploaded into a computer, to meld with the other dead consciences, but then still exert some influence of continuing events. This is a form of ghost, but with real and definitive influence.

Personally, I think the second would make a wonderful story ( if you don't do it, I might have to! ). The third would require an already existing universe.

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Having seen your responses to comments, and the IF mode you are looking for, option 2 would be my choice, where information or suggestions are left by the character, which can then be found as required (or not, if the reader makes bad decisions) –  Schroedingers Cat May 23 '12 at 12:16
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The lasting influence route could be fascinating as a source of conflict - what did the dead character really want? Two other characters could disagree - oh the dramatic possibilities! –  justkt May 24 '12 at 12:25
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Hell, you could build a religion on "What did the dead character really want?" –  Lauren Ipsum May 24 '12 at 13:14
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@LaurenIpsum If I had been drinking coffee, I would have spat it over my screen. Says a follower of such a religion. –  Schroedingers Cat May 24 '12 at 13:29
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"Invokes coffee snarfs" is one of my résumé bullets. –  Lauren Ipsum May 24 '12 at 14:58
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Option 1: I'm Back!

For an IF game, probably the easiest way to allow character death is to allow some kind of backup, or a chance to be restored to life. Examples include:

  • Cloning Technology - Your character has been cloned (or can be), and when the original dies, a clone takes his place. This method is used in the classic SF/humor RPG Paranoia, specifically to let characters be killed off constantly.
  • Time Travel - In a time-travel story, sometimes the time-travel technology lets you "come in from the future" and make another attempt if "things go wrong."
  • Beat Death - Some RPGs solve the death problem by making it simply an extra challenge: dying just takes you to a different level, which you must beat, and then you can return and continue with the game. So you could have a "Hell" level or a "Deal with the Devil" challenge or some such, allowing you to return to life once you beat the extra level. (I remember the Neverwinter Nights module Witch's Wake did this.)
  • There's also the brilliant use of story-as-a-flashback in Zarf's Spider and Web (HIGHLY recommended!). Obviously you don't want to copy such a unique structure wholesale, but the unusual approach may give you ideas for similarly oddball structures that might work for you.

Option 2: I'm Still Here!

This seems to be more what you had in mind - ways to exert influence despite having, shall we say, shed the mortal coil. Do bear in mind, though, that creating a whole new mode of play can be quite a chore for an interactive-fiction game! If you like any of these ideas, you might consider basing the entire game around the concept, rather than adding the extra mode in as an odd extension.

Some ideas:

  • Ghostly Haunting - Your own suggestion, and quite effective for your purposes. A ghost has limited interaction with the world - how limited is up to you. A ghost can certainly continue to wander around; maybe it's more limited in what it can touch and manipulate; maybe it can't speak easily to others. Maybe it also has new powers - like walking through walls, or possessing NPCs.
  • Reincarnation - A more mystical/fantastical approach to having a backup character would be reincarnating as someone or something else.
  • Guidance From Beyond - Set up some way to give advice to some sidekick character - dreams and visions; flashback memories; a will; a prophecy. You can set this up so the "advice" is retroactively assumed to have already been provided.

Hope this helps. If I have any other ideas, I'll add them on later.

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While not strictly answering this question, in t a general sense there's also option 3: I never actually left! –  Neil Fein May 24 '12 at 2:22
    
aka The Reichenbach Gambit. –  Lauren Ipsum May 24 '12 at 10:00
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Set up your world as a version of The Matrix. When the player-character dies, s/he is removed from "the game," and can now only influence other players second-hand: mysterious text messages, altering the headline on a newspaper just as the "living" character looks at it, turning on a TV remotely, etc. So your player-character becomes a kind of deus ex machina, not able to interact directly with the other characters, but able to leave hints and breadcrumbs.

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