Ask Mr. Writing Person: MacGuffin the Magical Pants
This time on Ask Mr. Writing Person, Norbert Dragoon joins us from Forks of Salmon [Ed: Huh?], California, with a question about his fantasy novel. Or is that a romance novel?
Q. It's primarily a fantasy novel, but I've added a touch of romance just in case nobody but Harlequin will take it.
A. Forward-thinking, I see.
Q. Oh, yes. I've even dug a bomb shelter under my car, just in case.
Q. I live in my car.
A. Of course. Now, what's your question?
Q. Well, my novel has become... dissatisfying. Can I show you an excerpt?
A. Certainly, young grasshopper.
Q. Okay. Here's my main character, Fabio, after singlehandedly wringing the neck of one of the dreaded Were-Gerbils of Hokum Pokum:
Peering through the light of the black hole sun, Fabio sighed, and a violent wave shattered the beach into a thousand tiny pieces. Elledron, the fair elven princess, was nowhere to be found. Fabio was a lonely pitchfork in the middle of space. He wandered down the street with a poise and sexuality very unlike a rabid chihuahua. The streetlights shimmered over his beautiful, naked torso [and so on...] Suddenly, a beautiful maiden ran out from the shadows and [gratuitous romantic encounter].
Meanwhile, an evil giraffe standeth over his diabolical plans for the end of the world. Long-neck laugheth maniacally. Lightning crasheth. Inchworms fleeth to Bermuda...
My problem is, well, now what? I've got Fabio seeking an elvish princess, and I'd like him to actually go save the princess from the long-necked man and stop his nefarious plans. How do I get from one point to the other?
A. I see you've been taking my lessons to heart, which is very encouraging. Just think of how stymied you'd be without having done that! Now, on to your problem. Do you have a MacGuffin?
Q. I think I had one at McDonald's once.
A. No, young Philistine, it's not a sandwich. Though it could be, if you wanted it to be.
Q. Is it a shapeshifter? I've got shapeshifters.
A. MacGuffin is an ancient Gaelic word for "week-old beer." Gaelic aside--never mind what it actually is--it's just an object that drives the plot. It could be anything from Great Uncle Abner's Vambraces to a pair of magical trousers. Or a cheap hamburger, if you like.
Q. Magical trousers could really steam up those gratuitous encounters...
A. Quite possibly, but let's focus on your problem. In Lord of the Rings, for example, the MacGuffin was the One Ring.
Q. Magical floating trousers would work really well... maybe some zero-G hanky panky...
A. The main thing is to have some magical object that both Fabio and the evil giraffe want. Do you have something like that?
Q. Yeah. I've just decided on magical floating trousers.
A. Great. The One Trousers. You might even be able to use those to drive some conflict about who in the party gets to wear the trousers, or to heighten tension by having two characters swap trousers in the middle of a battle. You do have a party, don't you? A ragtag group of rabble-rousing adventurers that were thrown together by chance to aid Fabio in his quest?
Q. They all got eaten by unchihuahuas, but I can have Fabio find another group.
Q. They're kind of like undead, but chihuahuas. Reanimated chihuahuas. Pretty scary, actually.
A. Right. So you'll need a grumpy dwarf, a lithe, hunky elf that looks somewhat like Orlando Bloom, a brooding ranger with perpetual five-o'clock shadow, some kind of stuck-up royalty figure, and a gay wizard.
Q. Well, I killed Grumpy the dwarf, so maybe he'll find Stinky under a rock...
A. Have them find the elf baking cookies in a tree...
Q. Yeah, and of course they find the ranger at a ranger station, tracking forest fires...
A. And wizards are everywhere, I mean, everyone wants to be a magic user these days...
Q. Right, and they'll be stopping by the kingdom of Bloodstainia to see the king, maybe he'll lend a son...
A. Or a daughter. You've got it. Now, about that MacGuffin, grasshopper. Let me show you how to put it in your story:
Meanwhile, an evil giraffe standeth over his diabolical plans for the end of the world. Long-neck laugheth maniacally. Lightning crasheth. Inchworms fleeth to Bermuda.
Even more meanwhile, Fabio pulled on his magical floating trousers as the beautiful maiden ran off to gratuitous another adventurer. He again felt woozy as he automatically floated 1/4 inch off the ground. It took some getting used to, but it was worth it. The evil giraffe, Long-neck, must never obtain them! For the One Trousers, while pleasantly floaty, also served another purpose: they automatically disposed of bodily wastes, which granted unto the wearer, on average, an extra half-hour every day of not squatting on the chamber pot!
Who knows what diabolical mischief Long-neck could get up to with that extra half-hour!
Yet Fabio knew he must wend his way into Long-neck's fortress, risking his life, nay, the fate of Medium-Earth, for the sake of Elledron, the fair elven princess.
Q. Oh, yeah, it's coming together now.
A. Can you see the light, Norbert?
Q. Not exactly. It's just coming together. Can we work on using the trousers to heighten tension?
A. We can. However, I'm not going to write anything for you this time. I think you can figure this out on your own. Try it, and see what you come up with.
Q. Okay. So they need to be fighting somewhere, like in a dungeon or something...
A. The Mines of... the Subway of...
Q. Moriarrhea? Yeah, the Subway of Moriarrhea. And they're fighting dorcs, and Stinky needs the pants:
"Fabio!" shouted Stinky the bullhorn. "I need them pants!"
"Now?" asked Fabio the contortionist as he simultaneously dodged a dozen attacks.
"Yeah! I got me full of them elfin beans, and I gotta go! Gimme that MacGuffin!"
Fabio glanced over his shoulder as he parried six more oncoming attacks. Stinky the country dancer-warrior was doing a fine Texas Two-Step as he battled his own half-dozen dorcs. Fabio sighed and rolled his eyes, and started unbuckling his magical floating trousers.
This left him in a very compromising position indeed; for as soon as the One Trousers were around his knees and his left arm was busy wrenching the skin-tight, sequined leather down further, a dorc with fire arrows appeared out of nowhere! It notched a flaming arrow and let it fly! And another! And another! And another! And seven more! They were drumsticks on a drum, hammering Fabio's chest like a hammer, beating on it like a bouncer in a bad mood, piercing it like a really loud scream, one after another! Fabio writhed in arrow-chested agony...
[gratuitous romantic encounter...]
Fabio was a blazing porcupine--a blazing porcupine writhing on the floor with its pants down--by the time Aragont the ranger arrived. Aragont's face twisted into a furious twisty shape.
"Hey you!" the ranger shouted at the dorc who had shot Fabio with flaming arrows. "You could start a forest fire with those!"
Aragont the loping jaguar gave chase...
A. That's looking very good. You have some very nice metaphors, and I especially like the transitive redundancy in the "furious twisty shape."
Q. I'm stuck again.
A. What's the problem now?
Q. I don't think Fabio can live through eleven flaming arrows stuck in his chest.
A. The question is easily answered, grasshopper. What's his stamina?
Q. It's pretty good, I think.
A. Is it above 17?
Q. I don't know.
A. You didn't roll his stats? 3d6, and all that?
Q. Well, no, I didn't think--
A. Then how do you know he could actually wear the One Trousers? Does he have enough intelligence to equip a powerful magical item like that?
Q. I'd think he'd have enough intelligence to put on a pair of pants, yes.
A. I can't finish this. My suspension of disbelief has just snapped. It was a vast, yawning suspension bridge. Now it just yawns.
Q. You're kidding me. I can't write a publishable fantasy novel without rolling stats on all my characters?
A. Not a fantasy novel, grasshopper.
Q. Ah. Good thing I was so forward-thinking.