Did You Know? A MacGuffin is Something that Propels Plot

"The Goldfinch" opens with a MacGuffin.

"The Goldfinch" opens with a MacGuffin.

Most fiction writers have probably written a MacGuffin without knowing it. The term, popularized by the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, refers to something that drives the plot of a story.

The online dictionary, Merriam-Webster, defines MacGuffin or McGuffin as “an object, event, or character in a story or film that keeps the plot moving despite its relevance.”

Hitchcock’s  films usually have a MacGuffin. In his 1959 film, “North by Northwest” (starring Cary Grant), spies are looking for secret information about a secret operation. It’s a classic MacGuffin. The movie never dwells or reveals these secrets because they are irrelevant. What matters is that the MacGuffin unleashes the chase, which is the whole point of the movie.

In a novel, a good example is the museum bombing in Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.” We never find out the perpetrators of the terroristic act, but it’s irrelevant. Everything that happens after the MacGuffin is what matters.

If you’re writing fiction, see if this storytelling device can help advance your plot. The next time you watch a film or read a novel, identify that special something (an actual thing or a scenario or an event) that serves as a MacGuffin.

Read more about the concept of MacGuffin:

What’s a McGuffin by Michael Kurland

Read other “Did You Know” stories:

Did You Know? How "Red Herring" Originated

Did You Know? Chekov’s Gun Must Go Off



Cindy Fazzi

Cindy Fazzi is a Filipino-American writer and former Associated Press reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States.  Her short stories have been published in Snake Nation Review, Copperfield Review, and SN Review. Her first romance book, In His Corner, was published by Lyrical Press in April 2015 under the pen name Vina Arno.