I recently learned a new word: MacGuffin. To my writer friends: I know, I’m possibly the last writer to learn this word. To everyone else, allow me to explain something I just learned about myself:
A MacGuffin is something that moves the plot along, but by itself is not really important (or can be substituted for anything else). Its sole purpose is to get the characters to do something.
And a lot of people hate them.
But why do people hate this random thing I just learned about? I’m sure that by now, you know that you can find someone to hate just about anything. But this isn’t one of those things. I’d say (and let me know if I’m wrong) that MacGuffins are disliked because they have no true value, no real significance to the hero/heroine’s growth or turmoil. After all, if something can be substituted for nearly anything else, what is the point?
Are they a bad thing then? Meh. As with most things, it depends. Moving a plot along is something writers have to do. Plot has to happen, otherwise you have a character study and a very bored reader. That said, MacGuffins can be viewed as a lazy way to make things happen.
But if: the plot is good, the characters are strong, the writing is great, the dialogue flows, and the reader has fun….does it even matter? I don’t think so. I’ve read plenty of enjoyable stories that feature MacGuffins.
What do you think?
Bonus word-nerd trivia: The term “MacGuffin” was made popular by Hitchcock.