If you’re not familiar with a lot of literary devices, then you’ve probably already asked yourself the question, “What’s a MacGuffin?”
A MacGuffin is an object, item or other motivator that gets the protagonist moving in a story. It’s a plot device, but rather than being a personal interaction, it’s generally some sort of physical object. George Lucas famously defined MacGuffins as “the object of everybody’s search.” A MacGuffin can be anything from a piece of jewelry, to a book, to a sacred place.
I talk about MacGuffins a lot when I’m in a conversation with other writers because I like to use them in my own work. In fact, Petunia’s Peculiar Particulars is a store with an endless supply of MacGuffins. So far, there have been three in my stories. A ring that leads you to exactly where you ought to be. A harmonica that shows you a vision of the future and a gold coin in a leather bag that was supposed to be protected so that it could become enchanted. I’ve got a long list of items that are contained inside Petunia’s shop. Some of these include obvious things like quills and other items of jewelry, one of the items is a pair of Converse All Blacks. (If you’re old enough to remember what those are, then take a virtual high five from me!)
I’ve had a lot of fun coming up with possible items for Petunia’s shop. I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from other places in literature. Many moons ago, there was a TV show called “Friday the 13th: The Series.” It had nothing to do with Friday the 13th. It was about a group of people collecting and safely storing satanic artifacts (read MacGuffins). Another show with a similar concept, and much more recent in memory, is the SyFy Channel show “Warehouse 13.”
For my own personal inspiration, I adore the manga “xxxHolic.” In it, a young boy encounters the mysterious Yuko. She’s the owner of a shop that is very similar to another shop I’ve read about by Stephen King in his novel, “Needful Things.” In both cases, the items sold in these shops lead their purchasers into more harm than good.
Perhaps the most famous MacGuffin and the oldest that I am aware of, is the Holy Grail associated with Arthurian legend. I absolutely love the stories of King Arthur and his knights of Camelot as they embark upon their holy quest to seek out the grail and there are thousands of them out there just waiting to be explored. Some other examples of MacGuffins include, the Maltese Falcon from the book of the same name. There’s also “The Heart of the Ocean” from “Titanic.” One of the most notable ones in modern fiction is “The Ark of the Covenant” from “Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
MacGuffins are especially fun storytelling devices for the YA market. Harry Potter contains many MacGuffins including my all time favorite, a MacGuffin inside a MacGuffin. The resurrection stone hidden safely inside the golden snitch will always be on my list of favorite plot devices.
What all of these items amount to, is a driving force to keep a plot in motion. Once the item is in motion, the plot rolls along with it until the item is located, or the item has performed its specific task, or is deemed lost forever. No matter which way you choose, the item makes it easier for a writer to move the story forward. Just move the item to the next location and figure out how the seekers locate it. It’s that easy.
I’d love to hear about some of your favorite MacGuffins! Comment on the post on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and let me know what some of your favorites are!