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Writing a powerful scene where one character gives up something valuable for another is not easy. Authors have struggled to convey the gravity of the situation to their readers, so what they read is a messy idea that falls flat. Yet, there is hope for your self-sacrifice scene.
Here’s how to write a jaw-dropping scene, oozing with character!
Emphasise a Particular Value that Will be Broken
I don’t want to bore you with the nitty-gritty, so let’s get straight into the first step.
Your character is about to do something for another character, something brave and amazing. Yet, what is vitally important for writing such a scene is for your reader to still be shocked by it, even if they saw it coming. It sounds tricky, but not if you put in the proper foreshadowing.
Let us being with a hypothetical:
Character A chooses to sacrifice their life for Character B. In order to make this particular scene you need to emphasise Character A’s dislike of Character B or emphasise Character A’s willingness to give their life. You do this through character interaction, backstory or perhaps through personality.
That is how you create an impact in the scene, which will be conveyed to the reader through the out-of-character action and Character B’s reaction. Yet, you can still hint towards this scene using foreshadowing. Character A could develop an attachment to Character B or contain a hidden desire to see Character B live through their situation.
Finally, if you wish to not only create a powerful scene in your novel but have an effect on the reader as well, have the reader grow to like Character A. Depending on the reasons you have chosen for Character A’s decision, you can make their actions admirable or their personality likeable. The result will be the reader feeling a sense of loss when Character A’s sacrifice-scene transpires.
Make it Dramatic
Personally, dramatic scenes are not to my liking. The cold, hard reality of a scene is enough for me. Time does not stop, tears are not shed immediately. If anything, confusion is what I use to convey the bitterness. The disbelief of the characters, the hopelessness of the situation.
Yet, that is not to say drama doesn’t have a place. While I may not use this method personally, giving the characters a moment to hold the body of a fallen comrade, or to exchange looks as the importance of the different sacrifice sets in will work to your advantage. It may sound cliched, but there is a reason it is used so commonly. It works.
A moment such as this has the reader urging the characters forward as they wallow in their sadness. I mentioned hopelessness earlier as it is the feeling often felt by characters when they lose something. It has them questioning their decisions, if only for a moment. In addition to that, it gives the reader a moment to empathise with the characters.
A scene like that is a high-point in your novel, it is memorable and alters the picture of the ending that the reader has been building in their head. If you feel like raising the drama, feel free to do so.
Have it Alter the Plot
The scene you have created is not only a scene that tugs at the reader’s heart-strings but one that is better when it alters the plot. Plans might change after such a scene. The sacrifice is a loss, but it is also a bolstering development in the story.
The characters have an edge given to them by the sacrifice. Either it is the inspiration to succeed or something more physical that turns the tide in their favor. In short, it is a twist in your novel. A surprise, predictable or not, that alters the flow of the rest of the novel.
What happens next is either surprising for the reader, or it is the trump card that the characters were looking for. Yet, while this is a method that creates a more interesting finale, it is not necessary. A sacrifice can have purely an emotional impact, instead of a plot altering impact.
If you are similar to popular authors today, such as George R. R. Martin, you no doubt have your reader developing that same sense of hopelessness. You then have an opportunity to create such a scene. One that hits all the right emotional high-notes and one that has the tide turn in the favor of the protagonists.
Yet, it need not only be the protagonists who have this power…
An Antagonist's Sacrifice
You can paint it any way that you want to. One of the antagonists is fanatical about the main antagonist and sacrifices themselves so their side might triumph. Or perhaps you have a morally grey story and the sacrifice is almost as touching as a sacrifice scene on the protagonist’s side.
Either way, self-sacrifice is not only for the protagonists. You use it like you would any other writing tool, to develop characters and to create an interesting story. It really depends on the genre and age demographic you are writing for, but do not rule out the idea.
To create powerful and worthy opponents for the main protagonists you need to treat the antagonists with the same amount of care and thought. In doing so, your plot is more interesting and twists such as these are more realistic.
Self-sacrifice should not be used too often. If you have such a scene almost every two or three chapters you are bound to lessen the impact. Take your time when constructing and make sure they are rare enough to elicit emotion from the reader.
If the reader encounters a self-sacrifice scene too often or too soon, they will detach themselves from the character. To have the right impact on the reader you need to grow and maintain that attachment in order to write a more powerful scene.
I hope you found this look at self-sacrifice scenes enlightening! If you are a budding author be sure to check out more of my education content or follow me in order to be kept up-to-date on these articles.
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!
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Thank you for reading!
Matthew Dewey, Writer
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