Letter ‘K’ I talked about killing off certain characters to get an emotional response. Those sacrificial lions and lambs do a lot to help our plot, but they are not the only things that can help. That is the external that we kill, but there is also the flip side. The internal. This is where our protagonist(s) need to make a choice on more personal matters. The major difference between this sacrifice and the killing of characters is that your protagonist must willingly give up something important rather than have it taken away by some outside force.
Something that many of us may sympathize with better than certain character deaths. Everyday many of us make personal sacrifices for something or someone else. Some of them are small like perhaps giving up a weekend trip to nurse someone back to health. Some more extreme like changing an entire career because of moral or ethical reasons. Whatever the reasoning it can become a very powerful source of emotions for your characters and readers. For example in the Dark Knight, Batman went through a lot of grief facing his arch nemesis. His romantic link and rivaling hero became sacrificial lions towards the plot. In the end though Batman has to make a choice of sacrificing his public integrity for the greater good of the city, becoming villain to the public eye.
Saving a child at the sacrifice of a wife? Maybe the destruction of an entire city to save one person? Or the reverse. The only person that matters is screwed for the greater good. There are many ways to torment our leading characters with devious choices where they must come to an answer that is nefarious on both ends. In a way…. Failure becomes the only option and that builds a lot of suspense for the reader in seeing which action is chosen, the consequences of it and the reactions of the main characters. Many characters may fall to make your main characters look all the more awesome, but don’t let the leads get away safely. They should share some of the burden that the side characters have to go through.
Whether it is a person or a personal quality, sacrifice can have power effects for the reader. Use it wisely and the readers will remember these sacrifices your noble characters had to do for years to come.
~ Nu Tael