Too often when I’m writing my reviews I find myself wanting to talk about The MacGuffin. At times, when I read these indie comics I want to point out the writer’s MacGuffin or lack of one. Then I realize that most people would have no idea what I’m talking about. So I decided to devote an article to the MacGuffin so that in future, I can link back to this article and save me the time of explaining this key writers concept.
It’s extremely important that aspiring comic book writers understand this concept. It’s also important to point out that there are varying definitions of the MacGuffin. So I’ll begin with my simple interpretation:
The MacGuffin is the plot device that the protagonist pursues; it’s an object that drives the story. It takes the form of an object, a person, place or sometimes a concept.
My favorite example is the Lost Ark in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Often it is the secret plans that the spy must acquire. It’s the missing jewels the PI must find. It’s the person responsible for the murder. It’s the zombie virus cure, the Maltese Falcon, the Holy Grail and the Infinity Stones. The MacGuffin could be conceptual, such as Superman’s desire for truth, justice and the American Way. According to many, including Alfred Hitchcock, it’s the linchpin of any mystery, detective or suspense story.
Speaking of Alfred Hitchcock, he was the key advocate of the term. Some say he coined it but according to him, one of his screen writers, Angus McPhail is responsible to for the phrase. When asked “what is a MacGuffin?” Hitchcock would share this now famous story (0:38):
I read somewhere that Joss Whedon told James Gunn that his only criticism of his script for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was that it was not "James Gunn" enough. Too often we see that movie studios and outside influences compromise a movie. See Suicide Squad/basically all the DCEU films. Fortunately, James listened to the wise sage that is Whedon and decided to go full force with his movie, how he saw fit. Guardians of the Galaxy, as a result, turned out excellent.
I always stressed it's important that Marvel movies remain fun to watch. I wrote about the Marvel Formula - create all the aspects of a great action-adventure film and add in just the right amount of comic relief to make the film worthwhile. Make scenes dark and gritty and then cut that tension with well-timed joke. Marvel is hitting their stride and James Gunn has it all figured out. I already could tell by simply the trailer.