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The Mcguffin And Other Plot Devices
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The McGuffin is that illusive object everyone wants to get their hands on. The protagonist needs it to save the day, while the villain wants it to conquer or destroy the world. In Indiana Jones it's the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and the underwhelming Crystal Skull. It's the letters of transit in Casablanca, the Maltese Falcon in, um, The Maltese Falcon (Duh!). The Sorcerer's Stone in Harry Potter, the Ring of Power in the Lord of the Rings. Almost every action-adventure plot has a McGuffin, especially the popular ones, and they're fun to pick out.
Often the McGuffin is found or destroyed at the climax of the story. However, sometimes a McGuffin is only used to get the plot rolling, and then the story takes a new turn. Jules Verne, the proclaimed Father of Science Fiction, often used the McGuffin in the second manner. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, for instance, the protagonists sought out a mysterious creature that haunted the seas. Upon discovering that the creature was in fact a submarine, the plot shifted to a straightforward series of anecdotes, connected largely by the themes of discovery and exploration of the unknown.
Mankind is fascinated with the supernatural, for it attempts to answer the big questions, "Why are we here?" and "Where did we come from?" This makes supernatural elements wonderful fuel for adventure stories.
Often the supernatural in adventure stories doesn't end up being supernatural at all, and the plot revolves around the protagonist discovering how a seemingly magical phenomenon is actually nothing more than a series of extraordinary circumstances that are nonetheless limited by natural laws.
The Scientist or the Scholar
Many adventure stories have an exceedingly wise secondary character as a plot device used by the author to explain convoluted subjects and help the protagonist gain access to essential information. In "The Mysterious Island," Cyrus Harding is the undisputed know-it-all, who through his brilliant ingenuity actually succeeds in creating a telegraph line on a desert island, using handmade batteries for the electricity generation. Sometimes the scientist or scholar is the main character himself. Batman and Sherlock Holmes are examples of this case.
Based on the famous classic, "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe, the Robinsonade is simply the story of survival on an island or remote location, and often revolves around the protagonist improving his circumstances through intelligence, hard work, and the raw materials provided on the island.
The great fantastical beast. This is truly a simple plot device. If you're not sure what your characters should do next, throw a minotaur at them (Greek Mythology), or a giant snake (Harry Potter), or a giant spider (Lord of the Rings), or a giant squid (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). It doesn't matter what it is, really. Just make sure it's big, mean and sees your protagonist as a tasty morsel.
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