It’s Thursday morning and I have not been washed downstream in the flood. The river is still big and brown, and it runs twice as fast as I do. We’ll see what tonight’s rain has in store for us, but so far so good. Put the Ark back in the garage; we don’t need it–at least for now.

Which leads me to the unrelated notion of sacrifice in fiction. Don’t ask why: I don’t have a clue.

In my personal unwalked path of fiction, friend Marc has coined a name for my genre: Spiritual Thrillers. Almost there but not quite, the coinage, but it will do for now. Among the headier thoughts that fascinate their way into my personal genre-space, several ideas keep popping up….

Love and its barriers. Acceptance. And sacrifice. I’m not sure why—it’s a subject for a shrink’s analysis, not mine.

There is tension in sacrifice. Drama. The crystalline revealings of emotion and motive. In sacrifice, the truths of ourselves are shown. Quite a beautiful thing, really.

The Spiritkeeper has all three of those ideas…hell, it IS all three…and among them, sacrifice is, well, key. In Everything, however, I am finding a different approach to sacrifice; here it is a tree hung with harsher ornaments. It can be flawed and misguided. It can be accompanied by questionable acts. And—here’s the tricky one—it can be telegraphic.

One wants to be careful, being telegraphic in fiction. One wants to suggest the dire future of a character…yet without necessarily hanging a sign around his/her neck that says “Victim”. Having a clue to a character’s fate is a great way to keep the pages turning. It can also be cheap and clunky. The line between good and crappy is a very fine one.

When, then, is it okay to introduce a character who is clearly a sacrificial lamb?

I’m grappling with that question now. I have been trying to make a physical threat more present and more graphic; one that, until the rewrite, had been all talk, no action. Sometimes, the best way to illustrate the threat to a character is by example elsewhere. Which means that somebody’s gonna get it.

We’ve all seen films in which we know that a character is funeral-fodder—we know it from his first appearance. The “Victim” sign? This guy is wearing it. Is that okay or isn’t it? Is it too easy?

Let’s move the idea one square ahead…to the more exalted space of fated-ness: that sense of tragic inevitability that goes beyond the Victim sign. A sacrificial character—even if he is not as central to the work—lives a limited life; his future will be completed during the span of the story.

These sacrificial lambs carry a flaw or a weakness that will not let them exist for long in our world; if they are disposable, they are disposable with a purpose. Their sacrifice becomes something more than a simplistic plot device…we have, for a moment at least, given them their humanity before doing them in.

Does that excuse the device? You’ll have to ask me at the end of today, when the exercise is complete. Only then will I know whether the experiment is proved. Sacrifice as experiment: We are a cruel lot, writers.

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