by Adam Huddleston


Last week, I presented a blog concerning a plot device known as the “red herring”. This week, let’s quickly look at another: the MacGuffin.

The term, often incorrectly attributed to Alfred Hitchcock (though he did use it often), refers to a main goal that the protagonist is pursuing in a story and which may or may not be important to the overall plot. I retrieved these examples from Wikipedia: the meaning of “rosebud” in Citizen Kane (1941); the NOC list in Mission: Impossible (1996); the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission: Impossible III (2006); the Heart of the Ocean necklace in Titanic; and the mineral unobtainium in Avatar (2009).

Hitchcock did have an interesting quote concerning the MacGuffin:

“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” And the other answers, “Oh, that’s a MacGuffin”. The first one asks, “What’s a MacGuffin?” “Well,” the other man says, “it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” The first man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” and the other one answers, “Well then, that’s no MacGuffin!” So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.”

I hope this adds to your writing vocabulary!

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