The McGuffin Concept

Tonight I’m going to see the original film version of The Maltese Falcon, quite possibly the most famous McGuffin in American literature. I used the term recently in a gathering of mostly pre-published mystery/suspense writers and none of them recognized it. Ooh, not good.

So on behalf of aspiring novelists everywhere, this is my treatise on the estimable McGuffin.

The word itself was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock. So what is it? It’s the thing that everybody fights over, kills over, betrays each other over and generally covets. It’s the mechanism that moves the plot forward, although it might not have much intrinsic value.

For example, in “The Maltese Falcon” the McGuffin is a statue of a bird. People lie and scheme and kill…over a statue of a bird.

That’s not to say the McGuffin cannot be intrinsically valuable. For example, in the Pink Panther series of films, it’s an extremely valuable diamond. In “Star Wars” the McGuffin is R2D2 and/or the Deathstar plans he’s got stored in his memory cells.

Nor does a McGuffin have to be a tangible thing; in “Braveheart,” the McGuffin is freedom.

Do you have a McGuffin in your current work?  If not, could it benefit from the addition of one?


Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 11:36 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. good explainy of the McGuffin. I can read this and see you talking with your hands to explain it. How come you haven’t posted about the class you are teaching?

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