How to Make Your Hero’s Self-Sacrifice Even More Heartbreaking

I don’t know about you, but I have a major thing for stories that include a hero’s self-sacrifice. In the stories that deeply move or affect me, heroic self-sacrifice is the consistent element. It’s also one that (no surprise) I keep writing about in my own books.

On its surface, this is a pretty basic idea. The hero puts himself out there and gives up something major and personal—often his own life—in order to achieve a goal or save someone else. Self-sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love—and so, of course, it’s an endlessly powerful story catalyst.

There is, however, a little nuance you can use to make your hero’s self-sacrifice even more poignant. All it involves is setting up a scene earlier in the story, in which the character reveals how desperately he wants something. Maybe he wants to reunite with his family, he wants to be granted amnesty for past crimes, he wants a pony—whatever. It doesn’t have to be something big; it can be something incredibly small. But whatever it is, he has to really, really want it.

That’s the setup, right? And that’s going to bring us right up to the payoff, which is your hero’s moment of sacrifice.

The idea here is that in committing to this sacrifice—to whatever degree, and it definitely doesn’t have to be a life-or-death situation to be effective—he’s going to be consciously and deliberately giving up the thing for which he revealed his desire earlier in the story.

If he wanted to be with his family, maybe he realizes the best he can do for them is leave.

Supernatural Sam Dean John Winchester

If he wanted amnesty, maybe he realizes the best thing he can do is accept the mantle of blame.

Dark Knight Last Scene

If he wants a pony, maybe he realizes sacrificing his horse fund in order to help someone else is what he really needs to do.

Summer of Monkeys last scene

The point is that he’s not just being nice, he’s not just doing something hard—he’s doing something that’s kicking him in the gut, and the reader knows it. That, right there, is the key to a heartrending hero’s sacrifice in any story.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you included a hero’s self-sacrifice in your story? What can you do to make it even more gut-wrenching? Tell me in the comments!

How to Make Your Hero’s Self-Sacrifice Even More Heartbreaking

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. after 7 years of being undercover, a female spy misses her plane trip back home, to search for the remains of the hero, who she thinks perished in the bombing. The hero looks for her at the airstrip and can’t find her on the last plane home. He wanders away from the airstrip and sees her searching through the corpses and thinks “could she be looking for me?”

  2. I am writing a book as well, in it the enemy is immortal and it isn’t possible to kill it, you see, it’s not quite human. The main character makes a deal with a higher power, a being that’s dying and cannot fight the enemy anymore, it bestows him with immortality. He banishes the enemy and himself to another dimension, (it’s a fantasy with multiple dimensions created by magic) where they fight eachother for all of time, so that the enemy does not destroy all of existence. In the end, the main character uses his life force to rip a whole in the dimension and trap the enemy in the fabric of space, destroying himself in the process. His best friend, who payed a price to stay alive, just to find the main character, finally reached the dimension, and finds Him dead.

  3. My YA fantasy novel ends with the two main characters, Simon and Sydney, who are best friends, sacrificing themselves to save their loved ones from being killed by sneaking into the enemies’ volcano fortress in the middle of a battle outside the fortress and destroying the magma core, which causes the volcano to erupt. They die, but for a noble cause–they saved their land.


  1. […] How to Make Your Hero’s Self-Sacrifice Even More Heartbreaking -The post shows you how you can actually create more suspense in your writing. […]

  2. […] character’s self-sacrifice can also help pull readers in. K.M. Weiland, from Helping Writers Become Authors, said that “Self-sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love—and so, of course, it’s an […]

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