Masterplots Theater: S is for Sacrifice

S is for SacrificeWelcome to Masterplots Theater.

Do you crave brave and selfless acts in your stories? The Sacrifice Masterplot requires these, because this hero is facing gut-wrenching decisions. This is a master plot for powerful emotional tales, ones that might leave your keyboard soggy and your readers emotionally devastated, but that’s just another part of the sacrifice.

Sacrifice Plot Notes:

This plot is all about the ending. The powerful, tear-stained ending, when a beloved character dies or gives up their freedom or fortunes to save another character. It’s best attempted by writers who are planners, because every step of the way the character making the sacrifice must develop into the kind of character (we believe) would give up their own life and livelihood for another person.

This is not a very popular masterplot, but it is an old one. Sacrifice was often at the core of classic Greek tragedies. It is still a huge theme in many stories about religious faith (Joan of Arc) and nationalistic pride (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN).

The most common tagline for stories with this masterplot is the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. However, one-to-one sacrifice is also common, especially within a family situation. The most common form is a parent sacrificing themselves for the good of their child. However, partners often make extreme sacrifices too. A less devastating example of partner sacrifice is O. Henry’s THE GIFT OF THE MAGI.

Currently, the Sacrifice shows up mostly in Sci-fi and dystopia. It’s also used as a common subplot to help increase the ending story stakes. The death of Obi Wan in STAR WARS IV is a good example.

This masterplot is often a heartbreaker. The characters are trapped in no-win situations and even with a major sacrifice by one of the characters; the story can still end on a bittersweet note.

Example to Study:

Catching_fireA great example is CATCHING FIRE the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Here’s why:

· GREATER GOOD: Several of the Hunger Games participants decide in advance of the games to sacrifice themselves so that Katniss might live to lead the rebellion.

· IT”S BELIEVABLE: It takes the example of several lone characters willing to stand up and to die early on to create the perfect situation for us to understand why so many characters would work together to save Katniss.

· REOCCURRING THEME: From day one in book one, sacrifice is a theme. Peeta was repeatedly willing to sacrifice himself for Katniss, just as Katniss was willing to sacrifice herself for her sister. The theme is just taken it to the next level as the stakes are raised in books two and three.

· ENDS ON A BITTERSWEET NOTE: Although some of the ending issues are resolved in book three, it’s not a happy ending by any means. We have lost characters and others are in the hands of the The Capitol.

Future Research:

It’s hard to find books or movies with a pure Sacrifice Masterplot; most have variations of the theme. Some reads with a clear sacrifice message are: A TALE OF TWO CITIES, THE ROAD, or look for more Self-Sacrifice themed books on Goodreads.

Hollywood loves a good Sacrifice plot. Some films to watch are: NORMA RAE, ARMAGEDDON, IRON GIANT, TITANIC, MY SISTER’S KEEPER and SILKWOOD.

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed S is for Sacrifice and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, T is for Thriller.

For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:

A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After

I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal
K is for Kinsmen
L is for Love Story
M is for Metamorphosis
N is for Nemesis
O is for Out of the Bottle 

P is for Pursuit
Q is for Quest

R is for Rite of Passage

And please share your favorite sacrifice stories in the comments below.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

21 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: S is for Sacrifice”

  1. J here, of the #atozchallenge Arlee Bird’s A to Z Ambassador Team. Thanks for visiting me.
    Have you enjoyed the challenge? Did you hop to other blogs? Reflections sign up is May 9– mark a calendar.
    My blog’s giveaway ends in a few days.
    In my Fractions of Existence book, one of my main characters, Xavier, sort of goes the other way on this. In his mind, “The needs of his one outweigh the needs of the many.”

  2. Hi, I’m trying to get back around to some of the posts I missed during the challenge and your blog was on my list of top five favorite blogs that I tried to never miss, but as you know, life sometimes gets in the way. I wanted to thank you for an amazing month and the plethora of knowledge, story plots and examples you provided your readers. I looked forward to each of your topics even if I didn’t get a chance to stop by that day. You didn’t disappoint with this one either. I love a powerful sacrifice story, especially a tear jerker. My sister’s keeper is the perfect example and never fails to make me sob.

    Melissa Sugar @
    Melissa Sugar Writes

  3. I have to confess, I hate when characters dies, even when it make a lot of sense. So I’m not very likely to read this kind of plot.
    But I agree that it is very powerful when it’s done right. I also think it isn’t very easy to make it right. Some of these plots rely on ideas we take for granted (parents love their childen, parteners love each other) and the plot don’t really show this to the point I’m convinced the final choice is believable. A person giving up their life for whotever reasons is something huge. Human’s spirit of conservation is probably one of the storngest feelings nature has given us, so it takes a very good reason for anyone to willingly give up their life.
    I find that in stories, very often this happens too easily.

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

  4. You line about the “needs of the many” of course made me think of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, where Spock dies sacrificially at the end. I’ve seen this plot somewhat frequently in Christian fiction, though they often like to make the sacrifice a partial one, where the person who dies comes back in some way, or doesn’t actually have to die, but just be willing to die (which in some ways cheapens it, I think; there has to be real sacrifice and suffering involved to make this work. Even if they don’t die, they should go through “hell” in some way.)
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Nicely done! You are completely correct. Spock’s moral code is modeled on an ethical philosophy called Utilitarianism. That’s were this concept stems from.

      I don’t think a partial sacrifice is cheating. If the person was willing to die there’s power in their actions.

      1. There is, but when the willing to die keeps cropping up it can feel overused, like the author is trying to get the readers to feel tension on the part of the characters even when we know they’re going to make it, just fine.

    1. Thank you, that’s the nicest compliment. I’m glad you like our A to Z theme, yours is a lot of fun too.

    1. Sorry, I didn’t plan on making any sad. : (
      Some sacrifice stories can be uplifting, like Gift of the Magi. It just depends. : )

  5. Personally, I think the ultimate sacrifice story is that of Christ…The Passion of the Christ. While I don’t know about the accuracy of the movie, it is played out in the Bible. I don’t know that there is another story out there that could top this one, though there are many great ones as you’ve mentioned above.

    I read A Tale of Two Cities in the 9th grade. My husband and I read it a few years ago as a couple read-aloud. My grandma had to read it in 3rd grade!

    Have a blessed day. 🙂

    1. Wow, Tale of Two Cities is a pretty scary book for a 3rd grader. I’m glad schools don’t require it now until high school age.

      1. In that I don’t think I could have processed it in 3rd grade, I would tend to agree with you. However, I think the dumbing down of America is quite depressing.

  6. I think The Flowers of War, a film based on the history of the Rape of Nanking and made in China with all Chinese actors except for Christian Bale, falls into this category. I don’t know if it was based on a book, but the story is excellent. One entire group of people sacrifices for another group. I don’t want to write more because it will spoil it for anyone who’d like to see the film. Also, W. Somerset Maugham’s A Painted Veil, about a British doctor and his wife who travel to Hong Kong during a cholera epidemic. Maugham of course is a masterful writer whose work exhibits an economy of words and a lavish psychological panorama of human motivation, failure, and fulfillment.

    1. I haven’t read any Somerset Maugham in ages, I’ll have to revisit A Painted Veil and see how closely it follows the Sacrifice Masterplot. Thanks for the suggestion.

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