Friday, September 11, 2015

A rant about MacGuffins with a challenge at the end (and a prize)

I interrupt this calm and intellectual book review blog to bring you a rant about a particular kind of plot that is repeated over and over again in adventure novels and is starting to drive me crazy. (I won't tell you what book I'm reading right now, because I'm actually quite enjoying it, and I'll probably give it a great review. But.)

If there is an Object of Power, and if the Big Bad Evil Guy needs this Object of Power in order to unleash his horrific devastation on the inhabitants of the earth, and if said Object of Power is hidden, where the Big Bad Guy can't find it . . . then the one thing you should never, ever do is go find the Object of Power! It's hidden! The Bad Guy doesn't have it! That's an excellent status quo; why would you want to change it?

The reason the characters use is always "we have to find the Object before the Bad Guy finds it." Why?! Why do you have to find it? You know he's just going to wait until you've done all the hard work of solving the complex mystery that only you can solve, and then he's going to walk up and take it from you, just like in the opening scene of Indiana Jones.

The unspoken assumption behind that reasoning is that "we will be able to keep the Object away from the Bad Guy." But you can't! You know you can't! And you've forgotten the key fact about the status quo: when the object is hidden, the Bad Guy doesn't have it! He can only get his nasty little hands on it if you find it. So don't go find it!

It is frozen within an iceberg in the Lake of Green Death,
and only once a century does the rainbow appear to open the pathway to access it,
and even then you can only find it if you washed your knees with lavender soap that morning
Of course the real reason the characters go find the Object is that there would be no plot if they didn't. The Object of Power is the MacGuffin that gets everyone traipsing about through the landscape, solving puzzles and fighting henchmen and bonding with sidekicks.

So I've got a writing prompt for you*: start with a hidden Object of Power situation and come up with something else for the characters to do besides go find it. (Bonus points for really funny Objects of Power.)

Aaaannnnnnd I'll even give a prize to the best idea, as judged by me and my writing group. An e-gift certificate to the Amazon in your country.

You have until Sept 30. Go find me a MacGuffin! I mean don't! Don't find me a MacGuffin!

*Assuming you've managed to extricate yourself from TVTropes, if you followed my MacGuffin link.


  1. Hahahahaha, this is the greatest rant. And I agree, obviously. I was JUST reading a book where the main character found a MacGuffin and decided he had to go through some agonizingly complicated situation to destroy the MacGuffin and keep it out of the hands of the bad guys, and like -- just don't, sir. Just don't do all those things. Why have the MacGuffin at all. You insane lunatic person.

    (It all worked out okay though. Nobody's fingers got bitten off, in the end.)

  2. Oh I only just saw this! Not sure I can make the deadline!

    I can't remember if you are one of the Internet friends I subjected to my Pipeweed Mafia adventures. There's a rather ridiculous MacGuffin in those stories, but luckily there's no Big Bad to keep it from, more like everyone's kind of inept and so have lost it.

    1. I have not seen your Pipeweed Mafia story, but it sounds fun! I love the idea of a bunch of inept characters losing something ridiculous (sounds rather like, oh, what was it called, the thing they were looking for in To Say Nothing of the Dog: the bishop's bird stump or something like that?)

      And if you do come up with an entry, I think you would win by default!

    2. I have seen your reply too late! Also, would it be fair just to submit the Pipeweed Mafia story even though I wrote it a few years ago (NO AMY YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE WRITING AGAIN) and the MacGuffin doesn't come into the picture until page 15 (of 24)?

    3. I think you should just send me the Pipeweed Mafia story because I want to read it! And as for missing deadlines, I'm just making all this up anyway, so I don't see why you shouldn't get a prize. :)

  3. By the way, the picture of the rainbow and the iceberg? I took that. (I was just looking at it again and thinking to myself, "that's a really great picture I took!)