Monday, September 26, 2011

Plot: Sacrifice

Had to change it up, it's Indian Summer!

In the beginning, written stories that involved sacrifice meant that some one or some thing was sacrificed for the gods, or for the Hebrew God. Blood must be shed. Today, sacrifice might mean that a person offers something important to them for an ideal and not for a god. Sometimes this includes their life but it isn't a requirement.

As a writer, it is important to study your characters personality. Establish their background and belief system so the reader understands what it takes for them to set aside their beliefs to make the sacrifice that is required. Or maybe, it is their belief that causes them to make a sacrifice. The price for this is usually deep and personal cost. Does this sacrifice or lack of sacrifice make your character a hero or does it shame them, discredit them. What price do they pay?

Case study:
High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. He is a moral man who can't allow a killer into town even though he has already turned in the sheriff's badge and plans to relocate with his new bride, Grace Kelly. She is a Quaker and hates violence but will put aside her beliefs and take up arms to save her husband. In the movie, we don't have time to visit the internal struggles of the characters for their decisions. In a book, you as the author must detail the internal struggles to satisfy the reader.

Casablanca starring Hunphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Bogart's character appears as a callous man but in a flashback we learn that he suffers from a broken heart and loves Bergman's character. Ultimately, he sacrifices his own safety for hers.

In both examples I have taken a quick look. As writers we need to delve into the depths of our characters. For this plot the setting must be small. One location is best. In High Noon it was the town and railway station. In Casablanca it is the lounge that Bogart's character owns. By limiting the setting, you create more tension.

Act 1
Meet the characters. Are they selfish or do they have an intense belief system that they must follow?

Act 2
Your character is confronted by a moral challenge. The events of the story challenge them and force them to make a decision. Do they follow their code or do the turn their back and why? If your character is selfish then you must establish why they would reach out and help someone. Remember, people are driven by their own beliefs and so should your characters be.

Act 3
How does this sacrifice affect your character and the characters around them? The strongest sacrifice comes at a great personal cost.

This is truly an overview. All the plots that I have featured deserve more study before you select one and start to write. My daughter asked me about plots today as I was preparing this post. Our family tends to do fun things on the spur of the moment. I told her that as a writer, we may decide on a trip but we'd better take a road map so we won't get lost. That is what a plot is. A map with many roads. Choose one but don't worry if you need to change directions to make the middle a little more exciting. That is called a plot twist or a secondary plot.

Next Monday the plot will be: Discovery

Are you working sacrifice into your current manuscript or a future one?



Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Hi Nancy! A plot is definitely a map with many roads, isn't it? Good reminder that we can change direction if we want to., I haven't worked sacrifice into the current WIP, but it's a great idea. Thanks!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post. I'm going to be outlining my new WIP soon. I'll definitely keep this in mind. It's a great idea.

Joanne said...

I think that with each decision a character makes there is some sacrifice. That conflict and choice is a great way to develop and reveal the character's personality.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Oh, I hate it when I comment and forget to hit the publish button!

I agree with Joanne I think there is some kind of sacrifice to bring about a change.

I have a post for you today Nancy.

N. R. Williams said...

Hello Elizabeth, Stina, Joanne, and Holly. So nice to see each of you after my extended absence. That's for your comments, I agree, good character development often involves sacrifice on some level. I'll be coming by.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Both of my books feature characters that must make a sacrifice.
Like the festive new background, Nancy!

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks Alex.

Anonymous said...

My characters begin selfish. Part of the character arc for my MC is to change his ways with the help of his female soul mate. The protagonist and his group, however, are narcisists who spiral downward as the story progresses.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Terrific post Nancy.

I tend to but an underlying sacrifice in all my stories. Sacrificing is part of life and I believe stories should be alive with LIFE...

Like Stephen's characters in my second novel my mc is selfish and angry but through situations finds his way along the bumpy road to help his friend who has so many internal horrors of his own.

N. R. Williams said...

I'd have a hard time writing a selfish character since it is far from my personality Stephen, but it is a great way to show the character growth.

Your character sounds interesting Michael. I think I have read an excerpt from your story.

Thank you both for coming by and leaving a comment.

Clarissa Draper said...

Sacrifice is such a powerful plot device. It can turn a okay novel into a powerful one because immediately the character who sacrifices for a good cause is highly esteemed.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never really considered sacrifice in any of my manuscripts, but I'll have to keep it in mind--it has a lot of possibility!

Great examples.

Anna said...

Hi Nancy,
Just stopping by to say thank you for your kind words about my post for 'Blue Moon' for Romantic Friday Writers Challenge No 20.
I see that you are an author of fantasy-literature! Super! Just the sort of pal I need!
Nice to meet you!
Best wishes,

For the benefit of other readers:
Anna's REWers Challenge No 20 'Blue Moon'

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Clarissa, Golden and Anna. It's nice to meet you too Anna. You did a great job for 'Blue Moon.'

L'Aussie said...

Hi Nancy. You always share your gleanings and this post will be excellent for those beginning to plot out their NaNo stories. Thank you. And it is so great to see you back!!!


Carolyn V said...

I love the plotting. I can't wait to get back into it after my revisions. Great advice. Thanks!

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks Denise and Carolyn. I'm thrilled to be back.

Misha said...

In a way, the Doorways series is about sacrifices, but it's not the main plot.

Been a while. :-)

How are you doing?

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Misha
Interesting about The Doorways.

I'm tired after all the moving and having two four year olds every weekend is difficult. But I'm back and happy.