Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sometimes one needs a MacGuffin, at least to start with

the sword in the graveyard
You know how there are words that we just love to say or write?  Some of my favorites are frikasee, mimsy, bailiwick, and conniption though they are rather hard to find a place for in my writing.  But one I have found usable is MacGuffin.  This word is a tool used in writing, and I  love the way it rolls off the tongue.   It's fun and useful.  However,  the MacGuffin has earned some bad press.  Some writers for movies, novels, short stories use them simply to start the plot off and then completely leave them behind.  But when used properly, this tool can provide motivation for a character to get involved in some action and can still resurface where it can provide depth and deeper connections later. 

Mystery novels often use MacGuffins to embroil the characters in a mystery.  Spy novels also can make use of the MacGuffin.  Basically the character is chasing something that may not really exist:  the fountain of youth, courage, grandpa's missing will, microfilm with the schematics for a satellite laser beam.  Or they do find it, and it is not of value any more.  I was thinking about this word yesterday and realized I used a version of this tool in both the first and second books of my Students of Jump series. 

In the first book In Times Passed, Brent is searching for independence so he jumps into the past.  His desire to get away from his mother's manipulation instigate the decision.  But once he is there, this is no longer a motivating feature of the actions that follow.  What started out important  becomes unimportant.  That is the nature of a MacGuffin.  (Of course, I plan to make use of this issue between Brent and his mother in a later work in the series.)

In the second book No-time Like the Present, Misty wants to face her father and demand he tell her why he abandoned her.   When the opportunity arrives, she takes it.  But what motivates Misty initially is not a central feature of her growth or the more important goals she really wants but didn't think she could have: a relationship with her father and saving her mother.  It is at best an excuse she gives herself to see her father.  She claims to have no interest in him, but is in fact obsessed with knowing him.  Escaping manipulation and high expectations or desiring one's father explain why he made the choices he made are the MacGuffins which motivate them to take a step into a place they do not understand but need to go.

What MacGuffins have you identified in works you have read or works you have written


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