A MacGuffin: A plot device that motivates your characters and moves your plot along
Hey Authocrats, Joseph here.
Being a writer or story enthusiast, I can imagine you could name at least 3 MacGuffins.
Think back to your favourite films or books and it’s difficult not to see at least one object or phenomena that holds the entire plot together.
There isn’t anything wrong with using MacGuffins. In fact, it’s quite rare to come across a story that doesn’t use at least 1 in some shape or form.
The problem lies in the misuse of the literary MacGuffin, and how it can be synonymous with lazy writing if you’re not careful. Then again, if done well, you could end up with one of the most influential and recongisable objects in fiction history.
Choose well, Authocrats.
Without further ado, let’s look at the different examples of MacGuffin’s in storytelling today.
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1) The One Ring
The One Ring MacGuffin type represents the key to power – the enemy’s final step to achieving complete victory over the world.
Needless to say, our hero(es) cannot allow that to happen.
Elrond, The Lord of the Rings
“Throw it in the fire! Destroy it! Isildur!”
If you didn’t understand that reference, it’s a nod to how Isildur from The Lord of the Rings had the One MacGuffin to Rule Them All in his hand and decided not to destroy it.
You see, that one decision inadvertently brought about the entire plot of LOTR, so thank you, Isildur, from all of us. Without you, Frodo would have just stayed in the Shire drinking and getting fat.
After all, what is the battle of Helm’s Deep against the battle against cellulite?
Because Isildur didn’t destroy the Ring, the Dark Lord Sauron became hellbent on acquiring it, stirring our unsuspecting heroes to keep it from him and eventually destroy it – all to prevent our big baddie from achieving ultimate power!
Talk about moving the plot along. And all on one finger too. Efficient.
2) Eternal Life
Oh, infinite life, how we crave thee! We crave thee so much as to lust after the one thing that will hold us from the Death we so fear.
The Philosopher’s Stone and its likenesses are the villain’s bread a butter.
Everybody fears Death; villains especially. So, the logical decision is to just live forever.
Why not! You just need to get your hands on a Philosopher’s Stone, or at the very least create some Horcruxes so that you can have a couple more tries at not dying.
The problem is that if you are after Eternal Life, you’re probably not the most deserving of it.
For more on the types of Villains out there, check out our article on How to Craft A Nuanced Antagonist
3) The Forbidden Codex
This is the device that prompted Alfred Hitchcock to coin the term “MacGuffin” in the first place, and he had a love/ hate relationship with it.
In the golden age of espionage cinema, there was certainly no shortage of doomsday devices, memory files or maps that hold the key to the baddies’ devious plan.
What are these devices? Who knows. Does the audience care? Not really.
But the spies say it’s important, so who are we to judge!
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4) Destiny Incarnate
Hurrah! It’s the new King of England! He has lifted the Sword from the Stone!
Avast! It’s the Prince of Asgard! He has lifted the magical Hammer, Mjolnir!
Woh! It’s the Chosen One! He is able to wield the Elder Wand!
You get the picture. Here’s the short version…
Get the weapon of destiny and you achieve your destiny. ‘Nuff said…
Sidenote: It doesn’t have to be a sword. It can be anything from an heirloom to a lowly trinket of times long past.
One thing is clear, however. This MacGuffin is destiny incarnate, and to possess it will bring our hero’s (or villain’s) fate in tow!
5) The Dragon’s Share
You don’t have to be a leprechaun to crave the rainbow’s treasure – indeed, you barely even have to be a gang of dwarves!
Figuratively speaking, a chest full of treasure is the greatest plot mover of them all!
The promise of wealth immeasurable is an alluring one. Indeed, even just plain wealth measurable is reason enough to embark on a journey to get it!
Regardless of obstacles, that little chest with the promise of wealth inside can spur the poor into action or corrupt the rich even further.
It can make heroes of the treasure hunters and villains of the greedy. Wealth, it seems, is not as shiny as it claims to be.
And who knows, that chest may be empty after all that effort! Well, it’s a good job the real treasure were the friends made along the way.
That was corny, I apologise…
Destiny calls, but not through retrieving an object, but by achieving a certain mental state – an inner peace.
This is the MacGuffin to trump all MacGuffins! The Big Daddy, the Paterfamilias, the ultimate in… you get the picture.
Enlightenment is the hero’s ultimate weapon, and unique to them. By achieving it, they gain the ability to overcome all odds and tackle any obstacle.
When Enlightenment is achieved, we become One with the universe – be that the Matrix, Brahma, or the Force.
Finding this mystical balance is sought after by heroes and Villains alike (but rarely actually achieved by villains – you know, because of their emotional baggage.)
Regardless, this has come at the end of a hefty character arc of finding courage and failing multiple times in the process. It didn’t come easy, but it could not be more deserved!
And that concludes our segment on 6 ways to propel your plot along!
Can you think of more stories that have any of these MacGuffins? Or can you think of any that we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comment section below!
All the best, Authocrats,