More clarification apparently necessary: Mac Guffin

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1 KorKhan4th Jan 2011 06:39:31 AM from The Sun's Orbit
I'm sorry to resurrect a topic that was already discussed in this thread, but it seems that the definition for MacGuffin has not yet been fully clarified, especially not on this wiki.

I was under the impression that TV Tropes used the wider definition, one shared by the likes of George Lucas, i.e. that a MacGuffin is allowed to have applications beyond simply being desirable for the characters in story. This would permit such examples as the Death Star Plans, the One Ring, the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. In all of these cases, desire to possess and/or destroy them drives the plot and makes them MacGuffins, but they all have practical applications and even help resolve the plot in the finale. The Sword of Plot Advancement would also be a MacGuffin according to this definition. The above thread seems to support this version, although it is slightly ambiguous.

However, there seem to be many here who stick by the narrower, "Hitchcockian" definition of a MacGuffin. This would restrict the term to objects whose exact nature is almost entirely irrelevant to the story as a whole, and whose importance derives entirely from their desirability. For the sake of context, my MacGuffin entry on A New Hope got deleted according to this definition, since the Death Star plans do have an important inherent function in the third act, even if they had been a simple MacGuffin up to this point.

What is the opinion here? Can a Macguffin have any functions beyond being a MacGuffin?

No matter whether we go for the wider or the narrower definition, I suggest we create a new trope page for the definition we do not use, since I think both definitions have their place.
It's difficult—nay, I'd state almost impossible—to completely separate the Mac Guffins with actual use versus the ones which are desired just because. However, I'm not sure how to stop editors from misinterpreting, unless a disclaimer were placed somewhere in the description (if it hasn't been already).
3 Elle4th Jan 2011 09:16:19 AM , Relationship Status: I wanna know about these strangers like me
Are the two contesting definitions actually codified outside the wiki in the manner you describe? In that case a soft split may be doable, adknowledging that the definition is contested.

Baring that,do we allready have a trope that covers the Lucas definition? Is it Plot Coupon? My memory is hazy and don't have time to check at the moment.
4 KorKhan4th Jan 2011 09:43:50 AM from The Sun's Orbit
I confess that I don't have any books on the subject, and am mainly going by the wikipedia article and the various sources that it uses. In any case, this article gives a fairly good summary of the Georg Lucas definition, apparently supported by Word of God. Click here for a definition according to Hitchcock.

A Plot Coupon seems to be a specific type of MacGuffin that the hero knows he/she needs and has to acquire in order to advance the story, so not quite the same thing as the "George Lucas MacGuffin". Plot Coupon also has a fairly vague definition, though.
I'd say the defining element of a maguffin is its ultimate insignificance. Its nature does not effect the resolution.

The cases you give are not quite Plot Coupons, other than in a very general sense. There are usually a number of coupons that have to be collected. Their effect on the resolution is real, but their main impact on the story is they each define the end of a sub-search.

So, we're left wanting a term that describes an important object that will define the resolution of the story. It would be useful. Maybe something like Brass Ring would work.

At any rate, there is enough here to take into YKTTW so a new term can be established.
Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty

Dragon Writer
I hate to say it, but are we really trying to re-invent the MacGuffin?
Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty

8 Madrugada4th Jan 2011 11:01:23 AM , Relationship Status: In season
No, we're trying to pick between the original meaning (an item which drives the plot but is ultimately irrelevant to its conclusion) and a newer modification (an item which drives the plot and is relevant to its resolution.)

I much prefer that we stay with the original meaning for the term, and YKTTW a new trope for the newer meaning.

edited 4th Jan '11 11:01:33 AM by Madrugada

...if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you for it.
9 KorKhan4th Jan 2011 11:23:33 AM from The Sun's Orbit
There is also the question of whether a classic Macguffin is allowed to have any other practical applications that aren't absolutely critical to the plot or the resolution.

Case in hand: The Green Destiny sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The sword's main role in the film is the fact that people fight over it, driving the conflict. So far, so Macguffin. However, being a sword, it gets used sometimes in fight scenes, albeit never in a manner that resolves the plot. It is simply a very valuable (and effective) sword, and it could easily be replaced with some other item with only minimal alterations to the storyline. Other weapons could replace it in the fight scenes.
I thought it was the exact nature of the MacGuffin that was irrelevant, i.e. it's okay for it to impact the plot, but not in a way that has to do with the specific properties of the item itself. So the Death Star plans don't count because it matters that they're the plans for the Death Star and not some other random Plot Coupon, but the horcruxes in Harry Potter do count because their purpose in the narrative isn't dependent on what they are exactly—locket, cup, whatever, they're just items that need to be destroyed because that's how the plot goes.

edited 4th Jan '11 11:28:02 AM by troacctid

Rhymes with "Protracted."
11 Madrugada4th Jan 2011 11:32:03 AM , Relationship Status: In season
I'd say the Green Sword is a classic MacGuffin. As you say, when it directly affects the plot, it's doing so simply as a sword. It could be any other sword, or even any other weapon in those scenes.

^ That's a good way of putting it.

edited 4th Jan '11 11:33:11 AM by Madrugada

...if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you for it.
The issue is largely that a MacGuffin as an industry term has evolved to mean "interchangeable in the plot" as opposed to "irrelevant to the plot." This isn't just "Let's blame George Lucas" as Peter Jackson has called the One Ring a MacGuffin and Roger Ebert has called the AllSpark a MacGuffin as well.

The new use differs from the classic use in that Hitchcock used a vaguely defined item that merely got the plot in motion and/or kept it in motion. The new term has the item itself with well-defined abilities and qualities, of which they can be used during the story. This new definition also has the "keep the plot in motion" qualities but if you look hard enough you can notice that for the most part it is largely irrelevant. For example, the powers of the Ark of the Covenant only steps in at the very end, the only thing you would need to rewrite with a different item in its place is the resolution.

As for what to do with the trope page and this wiki, I'm not sure a full split would fix its use because of how the term is used in the industry. I think a soft split would be the best solution so we can keep the purity of the Hitchcock original while letting the new definition have its place.
I would support a soft split.
Rhymes with "Protracted."
The horcruxes are clearly Plot Coupons. You could think of them as a series of maguffins, but if one was needed in order to get the next one, the one you needed would be having an effect on the plot other than just as a sought object.

I'm very much in favor of not diluting the definition to include things which have significance. Doing so would potentially make every plot-driving device a magufffin.
Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty

15 shimaspawn4th Jan 2011 12:31:50 PM from Here and Now , Relationship Status: In your bunk
I could get behind a soft split. The downside of evolving tropes is that it makes it hard to have a pure definition. There's the trope it started as, and the trope it's evolved into, but both have been consistently called by only this name.
Reality is that, which when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

-Philip K. Dick
You could think of them as a series of maguffins, but if one was needed in order to get the next one, the one you needed would be having an effect on the plot other than just as a sought object.
It never mattered what order they found them in. They just needed all of them. Plot Coupon and MacGuffin aren't mutually exclusive; the horcruxes fit both.
Rhymes with "Protracted."
Well Plot Coupon is a supertrope with many subtropes. It's definition is only "Thing you need to get for the plot to be resolved". How the story needs it is not specified, it might be the very last thing, there might only be one, it might have some plot job to fill.
Don't just tell us the facts; tell us the memes, tell us the archetypes, tell us the catchy ideas and symbolic roles that get planted in pe
So we're saying that a Plot Coupon is something that needs to be collected in order to resolve the plot (the collecting is the important bit), a MacGuffin is something that drives the plot simply by being sought after (it drives the plot because people want it, nothing more), and the third as-yet-unnamed trope being discussed here is something that's important as a means to an end (you want to destroy the Death Star, so you need the Death Star Plans; the Plans are useless in and of themselves, you only care because you want to destroy the Death Star). MacGuffin and third-trope are mutually exclusive, but both are subtropes of Plot Coupon.

Is that right?
No because you can have a MacGuffin which they don't get in the end. The gold in the Treasure of Sierra Leone, the diamonds in Marathon Man, I think even The Matlese Falcon. Those get resolved by chucking away the macguffin and you could have something where people are trying to get a macguffin but the situation is resolved by everybody who wanted it is killed and then those left around say "Screw this I want to live" or also you can have the Macguffin be involved in an Escort Mission.

These are not Plot Coupon cases but the typical case of a MacGuffin where the plot is generated by people trying to get it is always an subtrope.

So you are basically like completely right until the last sentence. It should be "...but both contain subtropes which are also a subtrope of Plot Coupon".

edited 4th Jan '11 1:01:53 PM by SomeSortOfTroper

Don't just tell us the facts; tell us the memes, tell us the archetypes, tell us the catchy ideas and symbolic roles that get planted in pe
Yes, the Unnamed Trope and maguffin are mutually exclusive. Yes, both could be considered a plot coupon. There are usually a series of coupons to collect, but there may be only one.

edited to add: [up]It doesn't make a difference whether the item is ever found. It was sought. In fact, the maguffin is often not ever recovered. The resolution does not effect the maguffin any more than the maguffin effects the resolution.

edited 4th Jan '11 1:14:21 PM by FastEddie

Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty

Dragon Writer
I'm very much in favor of not diluting the definition [of MacGuffin] to...
... what? The de facto definition has already evolved in industry parlance. So are we documenting or imposing definitions of pre-existing terms? Or something else entirely?
More like something else entirely. Defining it. In ways that make it easy to be clear about what examples go in.If "the industry" doesn't have a concrete term for the Unnamed Trope, we get to define it. If "the industry" uses it sloppily, we can help clarify what it should mean.

"The Industry" puts its pants on one leg at a time, like everybody else.
Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty

Rock Solid!
Pre-existing terms are tricky business. They aren't our terms, so we can't make decisions about their definitions. We've got to acknowledge how they're used outside this site.
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A lot of MacGuffins are "Hitchcockian MacGuffins"... until they're not. Like, the briefcase is just something to drive the plot for most of the movie, and then once it's opened, it has specific meaning, so it actually isn't a MacGuffin any longer. For example, the Death Star plans in Star Wars. They're clearly a MacGuffin, but once they're analyzed, they do something distinctly un-MacGuffin-like. Is there a way to examine the trope from that perspective, noting that the MacGuffin may not stay one for the whole story? Because that's the source of a lot of the confusion- in many stories it's impossible for a MacGuffin to remain in its perfect, interchangeable, ideal conflict-driving state.
We're not just men of science, we're men of TROPE!
25 DragonQuestZ4th Jan 2011 03:07:03 PM from Somewhere in California
The Other Troper
Um, how about we make this a Super Trope, and call the original MacGuffin Classic with the relevant one Useful MacGuffin?
I'm on the internet. My arguments are invalid.

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