The McGuffin ~ Edmond Manning: Outside the Margins

Join us as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins

Edmond Manning OTMThe McGuffin:

I watched a movie last weekend, horror-themed, in which six people set out on a boat trip and murderous horrors happen to the five who already knew each other before the yacht left shore. The sixth was a woman killed in the storm that initiated the remaining five’s misadventures.

After the movie, we were laughing about the unfortunate sixth role, to show up, and go on the worst first date ever: drowning at sea after being rejected by the man you were set up with.

“This is why you should never do a first date at sea,” said my friend.

Oh noes! Watch out useless characters!

Oh noes! Watch out useless characters!

I said, “She had an important role. She was a plot device called a MacGuffin.”

I only recently learned about the MacGuffin from a mentor of mine. I do not speak publicly much of this mentor because she always wants to maintain a low profile. How low? She is cringing reading this. But I go to her when I need advice and I am lost. First, she laughs at me and then helps me enormously.

We met in 2008 after the first king story was published online, long before King Perry. She said in an email, “You’re pretty good. But you need an editor. Someone who tells you ‘don’t do that. It’s stupid.'”

She was right.

And it was her.

She appreciated I write a flavor of magical realism but she pushed for more realism, better explanations, more revelations about Vin’s motivations. Giving me feedback on King Perry, she once told me, ‘If I was Perry, no way in hell would I get on that boat. No way in hell. You have to make Vin more convincing.'”

After four solid rewrites, she told me, “That’s better. I still would never get on a tugboat to Alcatraz with that crackpot, but okay. I can see it a little better now.”

She’s tough on me.

And I’m tough on her. I get mad at her when she doesn’t phrase her feedback nice enough. I get mad when I explain something to her and she says, “I still don’t buy it.” We have argued and exchanged hurt or angry words.

Months before King Mai was finished, during a “energetic” email exchange, she told me, “I think I’ve taught you all I can teach you, anyway. You’re a much better writer now. I think we should take time apart.”

She was right, but I panicked because it was she who got me here.

I panicked.

Don’t leave!

Afterwards, I was disappointed with myself and my lack of gratitude. I didn’t need to argue every point with her. I didn’t need to insist her feedback was wrong just because I didn’t like it. I could make changes to my manuscript I wanted to make and ignore the rest. As a writer, I learned this lesson. But I learned it at a cost. And she was right. It was time to part ways.

We remained friends.

We emailed. We chatted. Once in a while, we’d talk about writing and books and then, one day, we made up fully; we were at peace again. Six months later, she offered to read for me. She suggested she read more beta reader than she once did, an editor struggling with me in the weeds. I thanked her. Yes, please. I would like that very much. Now, once again, I benefit from her wisdom and sharpness

However, this time, I do not argue every point. I now say, “Thank you. Thank you.”

We had a text exchange a week or two ago on Facebook. I asked her for help. I had been struggling moving the plot forward in my current work. She texted me, “You need a MacGuffin.”

A plot device.

A reason.

A MacGuffin (McGuffin or mcguffin) is someone or something that shows up, serves a purpose, and goes away. The term was made popular by Alfred Hitchcock.

Mr. Hitchcock made the term MacGuffin popular

Mr. Hitchcock made the term MacGuffin popular

The sixth character who drowned in the ocean storm did her bit: she proved the handsome, shirt-flapping-open, beefcake captain was straight, available, attractive to single women. Having fulfilled her role completing his character sketch, she slipped into deep water and conveniently drowned.

We brainstormed possible MacGuffins for my novel and she came upon the perfect plotline within three minutes. Two minutes, perhaps. This insurmountable challenge I had struggled with for a week was resolved—resolved completely and in harmony with the plot, the characters, the themes, and the archetypes. Everything resonated as if someone had struck a big brass gong.


I exploded with thanks and tried to tell her how much this meant to me. To be terrified by the big empty gaps in your own novel…it’s frightening. Will the words come? How will I cross this desert? She understood the gift she had given me. She mentors other writers, too.

I’m glad I still need mentoring.

I’m glad she’s still my mentor.

We stopped working together for a while, but our friendship prevailed.

I’m not sure if she’s the MacGuffin in my life or I’m the MacGuffin in hers. One way or another, she advances my plot, and makes my writing much more of an adventure.

~ Edmond Manning

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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11 thoughts on “The McGuffin ~ Edmond Manning: Outside the Margins

  1. Great post on a completely new (to me) concept. But I will remember MacGuffin’s now that I’ve been introduced to them. I can see them come in handy in the future 🙂

    I so appreciate the love/hate relationship with those who read and comment on your words. There are times I seriously doubt having my husband as my first reader is a good idea. But he’s wonderful at what he does and he is usually right. I’ve learned to walk away while he does his thing and work away again after I’ve seen his suggestions. It helps. And walking away for very short periods of time better be good enough, I have no intention of taking a break from my marriage.

    • It’s hard to write something, be proud of it, and then submit it to someone else to find flaws. Who invented this idea, anyway? It seems ridiculous. My mentor was with me during some terrible ego-growing pains. I hadn’t learned how to do what you did, Helena, which is to walk away and let the other person accomplish what they did best. Thanks for sharing your experience. And hang on to big D. I like him being married to you. 🙂

  2. I’ve never heard of that term – very interesting! And what a wonderful tribute to someone who is obviously an important and dear friend. It’s nice when one knows they have someone who thinks they’re worth the hassle!

    • I agree, Denise. I am lucky she thinks I’m worth the hassle. Although she might not speak to me now that I’ve written about her. She’s verrrrrrry private. 🙂

  3. I’ve never heard the term before. More importantly, plot devices can feel even more frightening than the desert crossing. LOL
    I sometimes think, can I really “solve” the gap with this? Is it really working as well as it feels? Does it fit??

    Thanks for sharing this. It kind gives permission for using something that has a brief but important appearance if it makes sense for the story.

    It’s kinda odd to feel hesitant about using them because, just like the McGuffin in a story, we all have people in our lives that have played the same temporary roles.

    Awesome post, E, awesome. 😀 *hi5*

  4. I was in the middle of reading this when my whole day went to crap – so now I’m back to finish it! I was actually just about to delete a character/scene because I didn’t think she moved the plot along. Now I’m wondering if she’s a McGuffin and even though she doesn’t move the plot – she may serve a purpose by allowing my MC to say something aloud. I’ll have to give it a little more thought before deleting that scene. Thanks! 🙂

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