Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Do You Write a Character That Shows Sacrifice?

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Our characters are plunged into an unsteady world brimming with high stakes and a strong potential for failure. The character chooses to go after a goal or solve a problem and is determined to do whatever it takes to succeed. But does the character understand that determination and commitment mean sacrifices? How far will a hero go to ensure what he/she treasures is happy and safe?

One of the definitions of sacrifice according to the New Oxford American Dictionary: “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.”

We writers understand our heroes and heroines must be prepared to give everything they have unselfishly, even their lives. But how do we show a sacrifice without telling the reader what is happening?

I’ve heard that stories are what happened, and the plot is how it happened. Sacrifices must weave story and plot through detailed characterization. Only yourhero can make the needed sacrifice for your story. The events can be large or small, but they must matter to the storyline.

The following examples of storylines demonstrate sacrifices:
  • A mother gives the last crust of bread to a child not her own.
  • A brother gives his kidney so a sibling can live.
  • A person donates blood during a crisis in his/her community.
  • A woman walks away from a relationship when she sees her fiancĂ© is in love with another woman. 
  • A couple gives up a comfortable lifestyle to adopt hard to place children.
  • A wealthy businessman resigns from his job so his children can grow up in a rural community.
  • A family passes on preparing an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner to serve at a soup kitchen.
  • A child selects an inexpensive birthday gift because a parent is unemployed.
  • Grandparents choose to live modestly to help finance their grandchildren’s education.
  • A soldier volunteers for a dangerous mission.

And the list goes on. 

Many movies show character sacrifices. Those heroes and heroines live with us forever because of their unselfish giving. Here are some of my personal favorites:

The Chronicles of Narnia
Hunger Games Series
I Am Legend
Lord of the Rings Series
Harry Potter Series
Star Wars Series
Independence Day
Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan

I challenge you to invest time in a few of these movies to discover how a character’s sacrifice draws the story to your heart. Jot down the hero or heroine who made the sacrifice. How can your character make sacrifices that show him/her a true hero?

How do you write a character that shows sacrifice? Tips from @DiAnnMills on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

A character's sacrifice draws the story to our readers' hearts - thoughts from @DiAnnMills on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on Facebook:, Twitter: or any of the social media platforms listed at


  1. Great post Ms. DiAnn. I trust you know that your guidance extends beyond fiction my friend. God's blessings.

  2. I've written one where it happens. My novella in A Southern Season - Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing turns out to be a retelling of The Gift of the Magi. I didn't plan that, it just happened. Now, I'll have to see if I can plan it in another.

    1. Ane, of course you can! It's part of the character arc. So good to see you last week.

  3. What a timely post! Sacrifice is a theme I'd been exploring recently.

  4. DiAnn, Your post gives me an idea I can use to flesh out a story that's been on my mind for a long time. I think you just provided the inspiration I needed to give it direction. Thanks! Roberta Sarver