No Victory without Sacrifice: Making it Meaningful
No victory without sacrifice is an optional plot point, but one that is popular enough that it needs mentioning. This device is intended to add emotional depth to the character journey. When handled well, it makes the eventual victory more powerful. When handled badly, it feels contrived and obnoxious.
While this isn’t necessary, many stories have this element, Tragic figures can give your story an extra dimension, (Note this is not the same as the death of a mentor in the “hero’s journey” plotline.) In this plot point, the main character must lose something precious in order to reach the goal.
Bing Bong’s sacrifice so that Joy could escape the Memory Dump is a good example
Rue from Hunger Games is another example. Although Rue’s death seemed meaningless at the time, it was this meaninglessness that became the catalyst for both the revolution and for Katniss’s internal arc.
How to make it work
Loss must be meaningful
The reader must feel it as much as (or maybe even more than) the main character. This cannot be a small side character. The main character needs to have a connection.
Loss must help the hero reach her goal
If the loss doesn’t affect the outcome, then it is meaningless. However, the loss can seem meaningless at the time, and the real benefit is delayed. These fall into two categories: a death that inspires internal change (Rue) or character dies in battle so the hero can continue. (Bing Bong)
Consider tying the death to the character’s lie
The loss will be more poignant if the sacrifice could have been avoided had the hero not been ruled by her lie.
Make it unavoidable
If you are going to kill off a character, make sure there is no obvious alternative. The events must make the death inevitable.
What about surprise attacks?
If you are planning to shock your reader by surprise killing a character a word of caution. Make sure the death really is serving a function. Readers don’t like surprises for the sake of surprises. A shock that doesn’t serve a purpose will feel contrived and just annoy your readers.
No victory without sacrifice can help your hero’s struggle feel more real and give it additional depth.
Whether or not you choose to add this element, your character now has all she needs to complete her journey. Tomorrow the final battle begins.