Disclaimer: This question might be in the wrong place. I wasn't sure if this is the case, so please flag it for migration and let me know if it belongs somewhere else.

I am writing a novel. In the novel, there is a battle in which two people fight to the death, using swords. At some point during the battle, it becomes apparent to the hero (who is one of the combatants) that the only way he can defeat his enemy is to sacrifice himself. There is no way out of this conclusion; it is the only way to slay the enemy.

How can I make this realistic? To the uninformed reader, I could say just about anything about swordplay and he'd accept it. If the reader happens to know a thing or two about combat, I will probably have a problem. I want to make sure I can convince those informed few as well.

This battle is central to the entire novel. The hero must realize that he has to sacrifice himself, and this must be the only way to kill the enemy. Additionally, the hero will die in this attempt. If any of these things are not true, then the entire novel will fall apart. This is the most important scene in the novel; I have to get it right.


  • The combatants are fighting in an arena. The arena can be as large or small as necessary, but it has to be enclosed. I can compromise on the shape of the arena if needed (it is currently circular).
  • Both combatants are using a version of long-sword. It is my understanding that these swords can be held in one hand, but have the room for two hands when delivering powerful blows. If this is incorrect, please let me know.
  • The enemy is not human. He is slightly taller, and slightly stronger, than the hero. He does not wear armor, but possesses a skin which can only be cut by either of the long-swords.
  • The hero does not have access to steel or metal of any kind (save his sword), meaning that the best armor he can possibly have is toughened leather.
  • The hero is in a state of minor malnourishment, and could also be short on sleep, if necessary.
  • $\begingroup$ This should go on Writers $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ Something like the Deep Magic from Before the Dawn of Time? (Narnia reference.) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify Writing is about how to write, not what to write. I'm not sure this would do well there. That said, we do share one mod with them (Monica Cellio)... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify this question would be very much off topic on Writers. That's my main SE site, so I know that. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You said nothing about potential supernatural elements in the story -- make your Hero to Harry Potter, who (involuntarily) keeps his arch enemy alive by having a part of his soul in him. Adjust the soul part for whatever magic/technology/religion exists in your universe, and, for death to actually stick to your baddy, the hero's got to die, too. $\endgroup$
    – subrunner
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


Make him commit a mistake, as a result of which he'll die anyway.

For example he could trip, see the blade coming, life flashes before his eyes, etc.

If that doesn't fulfil the requirements - it isn't exactly a sacrifice if he's dead anyway - use stamina. The hero can hold his own for now, because he's faster, yet he cannot strike deep and still evade the enemy's blade. But he is losing strength quicker than his enemy, so he realizes drawing out the fight means he'll lose. He's going to risk it all on one strike on the off chance that he's fast enough to evade the block and lucky enough to survive the counter (spoiler: he's not). That still isn't really a sacrifice, unless he also had the chance to surrender.

There's also the good old "get hit, grab enemy's sword by the blade, kill enemy with a mighty slash". While not terribly believable, it's believable enough that it's been used before. And your version would be more believable than most because the protagonist actually dies while doing that. Link to a version where the protagonist survives.

  • $\begingroup$ You're right - dying anyway wouldn't work. Your last paragraph was more or less what I was originally thinking though. If I can say that and have it be perfectly plausible, then I have it made. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Thomas Let's hope somebody with actual swordfighting experience (preferably from frequent life and death battles, but I guess we'll settle for a non-lethal practitioner too) adds some flavor :) $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't there a saying that the swordmaster is most afraid of the novice? $\endgroup$
    – Ovi
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ if you make it clear the other guy is just that much better a swordsman it will be believable. That and you have to make the audience beleive the sacrifice is worth it. If the antagonist surviving doesn't really affect anyone but the hero it will seem forced. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Stamina is probably the easiest way to go: you could add blood loss from some cut(s) sapping the hero's strength. This bars the option of stalling for an opening, because the hero is going to be the one leaving themselves open first due to the onset of weakness. The options are thus to run or die. Eliminate retreat (lots of ways to do this), and that leaves dying in vain or launching a suicidal strike; imagine the hero ignoring the enemy's strike instead of blocking or evading it, which gives just enough time to drive their sword through the opponent's head/heart/something else vital to life. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 20:22

There are times when dying for the greater good works. Many Chinese movies have all the protagonists dying and usually it is to forward the concept of doing what is best for the greater good. (Hero comes to mind.) GRR Martin has no problem killing off his main protagonists and that has certainly been hugely successful for him.


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