The Value of a Life: Noble Sacrifice

I can only speak for myself, but certain types of story annoy me. Among them are those where a group ends up losing multiple members to save one person. To me, the only time this is anything but zero-sum or worse is if the person is exceptionally valuable.

Far too many stories seem to forget this. They create tension through having characters die in their attempt to rescue someone. It’s forgivable in some cases. Rescuing a ruler is often considered worth the cost. Other times might include if the person has some unique ability or knowledge. It might be that the person in question has vital information they don’t want in the wrong hands. One well-known version of this was Saving Private Ryan, in which the sought character was a special case.

Even with these limited situations, it can often feel like the sacrifice was too high for the gains. I do understand. No one left behind after all. Still, if you don’t justify the rescue, then you must justify the emotions. Show the visceral feelings and raw emotion of the people going forth to rescue the lost individual. Make us feel their burning desire to save this person. Show the acceptance that it may mean several of them die in the process.

Whatever you do, don’t have your protagonists walk into a meat grinder without a good cause. Make us understand why they aren’t cutting their losses. Let us feel as deeply as they do. It makes the story more believable and immersive.

I can think of several stories where this was handled very well and others where it was botched. What about yourself? Have any great examples of success or failure on justified rescue you’ve read? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

What are your thoughts?