Friday, May 17, 2013

The Egg Salad Recipe

The McGuffin is a common element of story telling and you really owe it to your audience to put some thought into it.

In every Hitchcock movie there would be some "thang" that the good guys had and the bad guys wanted, or vice-versa. And I'm not just talking about Hitchcock.

If it is a spy story, it could be a roll of microfilm of the plans to the top-secret Bruce-Partington submarine. If it is a detective story, it could be the key piece of evidence--perhaps a notebook--that would prove the bad guy's guilt. If it is a comedy, it could be  Gussie Fink-Nottle's book wherein he lampoons serious adults.

Exactly what it is is not important, merely that it is sought after and contended for by opposing forces in the story. Stories work better with conflict and the McGuffin provides an easy source of conflict.

If you write a story with a McGuffin in it, I suggest you think back to as many stories as you can remember, identifying the McGuffin in each. Then make sure you come up with a McGuffin that is somethng different. This is tricky because other stories have used the obvious ones--including egg salad.

If you are really stumped, consider changing your story into something wildly different with a wildly different McGuffin--like a bee hive. As a writing exercise, why not use a random noun generator and imagine a story with the noun as its McGuffin.

I just got "banjo."

A man is found murdered, garroted with a thin steel wire. Upon forensic analysis, it is a banjo string. The detective learns a Dixie-Land band was touring the area, but is evading him because of some lesser criminality. Detective tracks down a banjo with one new string that is owned by famous musician Redford Herring. His rival has a banjo with three new strings and the detective realizes the rival has swapped one old strings with Red's banjo...

Go ahead and try a few yourself.


  1. I got wrinkle. I had a great little sci fi mad scientist murder mystery going, then I realized it was just Flowers for Algernon, plus a murder.

    1. I loved the movie Lawnmower Man until I realized it was just cyber-flowers for Algernon. I think you're allowed to pick up the Flowers motif to some extent, provided you make original characters who'll make the story your own. There are only a finite number of plots available to the writer, but there are an infinity of characters you can put into your stories.


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