* Warning: This is a long, rambly post. Stick with it, I promise it has a point.
(Or, the importance of a MacGuffin. Loosely defined as the tangible thing a character wants. It also serves the role of a representation of the intangible thing a character wants.)
One of my all time favorite movies is (500) Days of Summer. It's a bittersweet movie featuring a male lead with an incredible, INCREDIBLE movie soundtrack. So, when I heard about another movie (older) that also had a male as the central character that also had a bittersweet ending, I was in.
The hero tells a mystery love story. The viewer doesn't know who he'll end up with, but soon I had a top favorite. This heroine had all the ear marks of a romance heroine. Or at least my Achilles heel type of heroine—she doesn't want to fall in love, especially not with the hero.
Anyway, before they really become great friends she tells him a story about how she's looking for a book. This isn't just any book you can find at B & N or order off Amazon. (Hell, during the time period of this story I don't think Amazon existed.) This book has an inscription from her deceased father. Time moves forward (years) and one day hero finds THE BOOK.
At this point, I'm a puddle on the floor. They could have ended the movie right there and I'd have known how it would end. The hero had the MacGuffin. Since the writers hadn't been sleeping on the job the MacGuffin actually meant something. Since the characters just weren't people serving a plot or being sacraficed on the altar of plot, the MacGuffin said something. And because I checked the running time on the movie, and the writers weren't sleeping on the job, that damn MacGuffin needed at least one more damn beat.
So, like any respectable romance writer faced with a decent love story I started to scream at the TV, “GIVE HER THE BOOK!” *
Yes, a MacGuffin means nada without great character. No parts of your story means anything without great character. It's one of those things that goes without saying. But, a MacGuffin (with great character) can cinch the hell out of character arc, it gives the reader something to hang onto (or in my case a reason to scream), it can even be the way in to create deeper character.
For me this was a great lesson to be reminded of. I've been having trouble nailing down my character. All I had to do was ask: What is the one thing in this world she wants most?
What are some of your favorite MacGuffins? What are ways you cinch the character arc? What are some of the ways you create a character with depth?
* Because the writers weren't sleeping on the job, there's a twist. But, he gave her the damn book.
* I didn't name the movie because this post is one long spoiler.