Not all stories are about restoring order in the universe or overcoming some personal conflict. Sometimes the plot revolves around the search for an item that will elevate the main character’s position in the world or will prevent an evil force from gaining the upper hand. This item is called a macguffin, a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock.
The macguffin could be a chalice that promises immortality (King Arthur’s holy grail stories), the One Ring (“Lord of the Rings”), a valuable piece of art (“The Maltese Falcon”), a magic jewel, a secret formula – anything that is so highly desired that it creates obstacles and challenges for the main character who tries to obtain it.
If using a macguffin in your story, two questions must be answered. First, why is the object valuable? If the importance (and usually the exoticness) of the object is explained, the reader will quickly lose interest as the story has little point. After all, every one of us spends time looking for mundane objects. A second question to answer is why are the characters motivated to obtain the macguffin? To say the object is valuable is not enough, for one man’s treasure often is another man’s junk. Usually a character needs some overwhelming reason to desire an object, such as the thirst for immortality or a desperate need for money.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.