By: Nazia Adnin
"In crook stories it is almost always the necklace,
What is MacGuffin? An object or device in a movie or a book that serves merely as a trigger for the plot. This is the literal definition of MacGuffin.
Generally, in fiction a MacGuffin (aka Magoffin) is desired or pursued by the protagonists. It works as catalyst and serves no further purpose. Very often, however, a MacGuffin is unimportant in the overall plot and lacks narrative explanation. Sometimes characters don’t even care about it at the end of the story. In some cases it only works as a driving force throughout the story.
A Macguffin could be a prop, a character, a device, or a place. Other abstract types of MacGuffin include money, victory, glory, power or a driving force. Multiple Macguffins are known as “Plot Coupons”.
The word itself is derived by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock from a Scottish story about two men in a train. The term was popularized by Hitchcock in 1930s but the concept pre-dates the term and has been using as a powerful storytelling technique for hundreds of years.
In TV interviews, Hitchcock defined a MacGuffin as the object around which the plot revolves, but as to what that object specifically is, he declared, "The audiences don’t care".
George Lucas has a contradictory meaning or definition of the term. Although, in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Lucas considers R2-D2, the driving force of the story –an object of everybody’s search.
Examples in television include various Rambaldi artifacts in Alias, the orb in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Krieger Waves in the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode "A Matter of Perspective.”
Examples in literature include the television set in Wu Ming's novel 54; and the container in William Gibson's Spook Country.
Film maker and drama writing theorist Yves Lavandier echoes Hitchcock while defining MacGuffin. He thinks the tool “is a secret that motivates the villain”. In a broader sense, says Lavandier, a MacGuffin denotes any justification for the external conflictual premises of a work.
Now you know that what MacGuffin is, pay more attention to the props in your next film to add versatility in the story.