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Macguffin or interesting plot thread?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kyne, Jan 13, 2021.

  1. Kyne

    Kyne Acolyte

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    I'm working on a story where the group of protagonists are forced together in order to take care of a bandit problem, but end up finding a bunch of dark magic and a lich instead.

    I'm working on a scene in the beginning before the group comes together where the problem is shown to the reader. Three protagonists are heading towards town when they come across a merchant who has been attacked by "bandits". I don't know yet if I want this person to be prone and unconscious as a result of the attack or if they were knocked unconscious to serve as a means to set up a larger ambush. I've even considered that the merchant has already been soul snatched and is acting as puppet and a means to lure in people.
    Either way the ambush happens.
    If the merchant isn't soul snatched, they either need to run screaming into the forest or be dragged there against their will. The antagonists need people, and I'm not talking about "help wanted" ads. They are exchanging souls with the lich in order to get power in order to protect the forest they call home.
    I want the merchant to help provide insight into the world of the antagonist and help seed fear through my novel, but at this point I don't know if they are a macguffin or if I legitimately have something interesting on my hands. I plan on writing "merchant" chapters to lead the reader through their flight, capture, and eventual soul snatching by the lich. This is my first time writing horror, but I'm excited to try.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  2. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

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    Eh, I don't think you need to stress over it at this point. Write the story you enjoy most, and don't fear if people hate it. You can always go back after the beta reading stage. (y)
     
    TJPoldervaart likes this.
  3. Kyne

    Kyne Acolyte

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    I think my problem is that there are too many pieces of candy in the bowl and I want to write all of them :LOL:. I'm almost better off flipping a coin to see which scene I should write and add to the story.

    I'm adding in the merchant because I didn't have a good sense of the antagonist through the book, per a few early readers. Of these forest people, some are good, but then there is the group that align with the lich. I had no ties to them in my first version until the end and it was like "surprise! here is your antagonist! I didn't wrap them, hope it's okay". So I have to fix that.
     
  4. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

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    Ah, yes, I know the struggle. I've rewritten the same scene about 12 times and I'm still not quite confident with it. :/ Something you could do is flesh out a chapter with the new material that popped up in your head and then post it in critique to get a feel for how it reads.
     
  5. Kyne

    Kyne Acolyte

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    That is an amazing idea! I'm going to try that out!
     
  6. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    If that is all the merchant is, then he probably is a Macguffin. Nothing wrong with that of course. Plenty of good books out there with great Macguffins.

    If you want him to be more, then the merchant needs to play a bigger role in the story. There needs to be a point to him besides showing the antagonist. Maybe he's related to one of the protagonists. Or one of them falls in love with his daughter (or all three do...). Or something else. There needs to be more point to him than just getting it started.
     
  7. It's funny but I always think of a MacGuffin as an object or goal. Your merchant, if you intend for him to reappear throughout the story, SHOULD have some tie to other, main characters (the protagonists and/or antagonists). That can develop through the telling of the story as with Prince of Spires suggestions above and doesn't have to be there at the start, but he can also be there simply to help show readers the situation/special talents/purpose etc of the main characters/protagonists as the story opens. Maybe one is a healer or one recognizes the value of something in the merchants possession or one knows Lich lore and recognizes a mark on the skin or set a look in the merchant's eyes that hints at the darker tale to come.

    A good example is the first chapter of VE Schwab's "A Darker Shade of Magic", in which the secondary character of the mad King is never seen again but perfectly allows the reader to establish a great deal about the visiting main character, the magic he wields, his empathy and the unusual world the story takes place in. For my money it's the perfect example of the "throwaway character" because it reveals so much in a few pages and the throwaway DOES have ties to the rest of the world. The chapter also puts an object the main character possesses, a coat, front and center, the strangeness of which will never be fully explained in the book, but that's ok too!

    But here is a tip. That first chapter could only be written once Schwab knew the entire story and she outlines her stories from the ending back. There are promises made that pay off much later. So my suggestion is to jot down your opening ideas, maybe sketch out a rough draft of the opening and then set it aside to revisit over time. Don't get hung up on trying to create the perfect beginning because, until you know the whole story and understand what you want/need to seed into those opening pages, you'll be hard pressed to really fit all you need to within them.

    Best of luck!
     
  8. TJPoldervaart

    TJPoldervaart Minstrel

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    If you want a character to introduce your protagonists to the antagonist, why not make them a henchman of the antagonist? They could still fake being unconscious and be part of the trap to take down the protagonists. Or be mind, controlled as you suggested at first, which would give an awesome feeling of danger and betrayal when the party is attacked by them.

    The reason I suggest this is that a one-note character that only exists to give exposition might be boring for a reader. It doesn't have to be, of course, but the chances of them being uninteresting are I think quite high. You could also go in another direction and have them be an interesting, perhaps even quirky, recurring character whose presence has greater implications on the plot as a whole.
     
  9. Kyne

    Kyne Acolyte

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    I completely agree with your assessment. I have just the henchman for the job. I had ignored them because none of my beta readers had any interest in them, but to be fair, the henchman chapters are really rough.
    My henchman is a wraith. Since the big bad is a lich who is locked away in a pocket dimension, his goal is to get free. He is using a secondary antagonist to open the portal, but said portal requires souls. The wraith is a henchman that serves as the Lich's eyes to make sure that the secondary antagonist is doing their job. The Lich doesn't play a large role in this novel, but the secondary antagonist does. The Lich will become the main threat in subsequent novels once he is free. I think I'll name him Steve.
    The wraith was never human, so its chapters are incredibly rough to read. It's only introduced in the latter half of the book right now. I could have the wraith enter in sooner, guiding the secondary antagonists to souls and instructing them on the how tos of dark magic.
    Couple with that the amount of tension I need to add into the novel to make the horror aspect stick, I think I have a lot of work ahead of me.
     
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