The McGuffin has been a powerful storytelling device for a long time. It was Alfred Hitchcock who popularized both its use and the name that sounds like it should be on a dollar menu.
The McGuffin has a cool job: to keep the plot, character, or situation rolling along. It draws us into the story and drives the action. The McGuffin is often an object of high value, which everyone covets. It can be ambiguous, entirely undefined, generic, or left open to interpretation.
Remember the suitcase in “Pulp Fiction?” Classic McGuffin. Though it showed up a few times throughout the film, and was important enough to get a handful of people peppered with bullets, we never actually saw what was in the suitcase.
And consider “The Maltese Falcon,” one of the most famous McGuffins of all time. Though the falcon in question drives the entire story and moves us from scene to scene, we never actually see it at all.
That is what’s cool about the McGuffin. Its purpose is served so long as it moves the story along. In many stories, by the time we should be demanding to know what the McGuffin actually is, we have forgotten about it entirely. That’s because we’ve been deftly redirected to the author’s true purpose.
If the author executes the McGuffin well, you’ll barely notice the technique. And that’s how it should be.
How the McGuffin can make you money
Writing online to build your business means you are directing the story. Whether you want people to download your product, subscribe to your newsletter, or hire you for $250 an hour, you must drive them to that decision.
The McGuffin is the wind that will sail a prospect’s ship into your harbor. Your offer is the anchor.
There’s a good chance you’re already using the McGuffin without even realizing it.
While talking about your highly productive methods for moving mountains and getting things done, aren’t you really laying the stage for your new How to Move Mountains and Get Things Done! info product?
When you’re telling interesting stories about your life as a freelancer, aren’t you really showing how terrific an experience your customers are having?
(If not, you might want to think about changing that.)
The engaging stories about your topic are the McGuffin — the interesting, attention-focusing “grabber” that pulls your readers in.
But where they go once they’re there is up to you.
Handle with care
Many poorly written novels and films show the McGuffin can be horribly mishandled. If you misuse the McGuffin, you will leave your prospect feeling unsatisfied at best and betrayed at worst.
Don’t promise the beach and then drive to the desert just because there’s sand. It’s fine to shift gears after you’ve brought a reader in with your fascinating McGuffin. But the place you’re bringing your readers still needs to make sense, and to deliver an experience she wants.
If you surprise your prospect with a smile, you will likely keep her coming back for more. Startle her with disappointment and she will leave and never come back.
At its best, the McGuffin is a pleasure and can help the audience to enjoy the ride. I don’t hold it against Tarantino for never showing me what’s in the suitcase, any more than I’d hold it against Brian for letting me know about Thesis after I came here for some advice on my headlines.
I love “Pulp Fiction” more with every viewing, and my affection for Thesis deepens with every site my business builds.
I don’t mind the change in direction, because I’ve been led somewhere I want to go.
This story about the McGuffin is, of course, a McGuffin itself. My real intent? To show an interesting technique that both helps other writers and, of course, gathers more copywriting clients for my own business.
How about you? What curiosity-provoking, desire-inducing McGuffin could you be writing about on your blog that would drive your readers to take action? And once they’ve shown up, where will your copy take them next?