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Mr McGuffin: Good morning, Madam.
Writer 1: Good morning. I’d like to buy a plot device, please.
Mr McGuffin: Certainly Madam. What genre are you writing in?
Writer 1: Crime, mainly. But lately, I’ve been branching into grip-lit. You know. Thrillers, that kind of stuff.
Mr McGuffin: Ah. Luckily, we do have a new grip-lit section. Tell me, is your crime domestic or commercial?
Writer 1: Definitely domestic. It involves several kitchen appliances.
Mr McGuffin: Lovely. Well, we have a marvellous array of old letters, tied into bundles with ribbon; secret diaries; grainy photographs, and bloodstained blankets. Or were you thinking of anything in particular?
Writer 1: I was rather hoping for something a bit more sinister.
Mr McGuffin: Than a bloodstained blanket?
Writer 1: Is it a baby blanket?
Mr McGuffin: I’m afraid we’re fresh out of those. There’s been a run on them lately. Could I offer you a bloodstained suitcase?
Writer 1: I don’t think that’s going to get me out of this jam. I have three characters sitting in an attic with no way of figuring themselves out of it.
Mr McGuffin: What if I told you the suitcase contains a strange old map, and is festooned with airline labels from Djakarta, Siam, and Persia?
Writer 1: Oooh, I LOVE obsolete placenames! I’ll take it! How much?
Mr McGuffin: Now that’s another story.
Writer 2 enters the shop, carrying a small dog wearing an unusual rust-coloured collar made out of puzzle pieces and displaying a notable fear of bald men. Writer 2 embraces Writer 1, but they both make faces behind each other’s backs. Writer 1 leaves.
Writer 2: Hello. Is this the motive shop?
Mr McGuffin: Not exclusively, Sir, but we do have the largest selection of motives in the country.
Writer 2: Excellent. I need a reason for a character to burn down an entire Welsh village during a haymaking festival.
Mr McGuffin: Hmmm. Tricky. What age is your villain?
Writer 2: He’s 47. But a young 47, if you know what I mean.
Mr McGuffin: I see. 47 is a difficult age. I have some fabulous motives for octogenarian protagonists – going cheap, incidentally, in an end-of-season sale. And I can’t seem to keep motives for young adults in stock, even though there are only three types of those. But a 47-year-old… let me think. Is he religious?
Writer 2: I’m afraid not.
Mr McGuffin: Abandonment issues? Say, an emotionally detached father? Or a manic depressive mother?
Writer 2: No.
Mr McGuffin: An overly intense appreciation for fine art? A god complex of any kind?
Writer 2: Well, he does have an unusually heightened sense of smell. It’s sort of his thing. He can tell a wine by the nose alone, and once detected a rare cheese from two streets away.
Mr McGuffin: Oh! I have just the thing. [rummaging] Now, where did I put it… Ah! Here we go! [brushing off dust] I think you’ll find this is perfect.
Writer 2: [disappointed] A handkerchief?
Mr McGuffin: This isn’t just any old handkerchief. This is the handkerchief belonging to your character’s sister, who died of an extremely rare and fatal strain of allergic rhinitis – hay fever to you and me – brought on by the pollen from a genetically altered type of crop, which grows only—
Writer 2: In Wales!
Mr McGuffin: Precisely.
Writer 2: Brilliant! I’ll take three. Just in case the first two get lost.
Mr McGuffin: [wrapping up the handkerchiefs] Nice dog, by the way, Sir. What’s his name?
Writer 2: Oh, this is Red Herring. Isn’t he just adorable?
Again, the shop bell sounds. Writer 3 enters and stands patiently as Writer 2 leaves. She is shabbily dressed in clothes which would once have been quite grand, but are now threadbare and faded.
Writer 3: Hi. I hope you can help me.
Mr McGuffin: That’s what I’m here for, Madam. What do you need?
Writer 3: I’m writing romance, and my two main characters just fell over a cliff. But I can’t let them die. I’m afraid I don’t have much money.
Mr McGuffin: Oh, dear. Now that is a tricky situation. Have you considered a narrative device rather than a plot device?
Writer 3: Sorry?
Mr McGuffin: You see, back in the day, in order to rescue your characters, you could have to made the fall into a dream sequence, or a figment of somebody’s imagination. But that doesn’t wash any more.
Writer 3: Don’t I know it. That’s why I was rather hoping you’d have something.
Mr McGuffin: My best advice would be to use an unreliable narrator. I’m afraid I don’t sell those, but you can make one yourself if you have the time.
Writer 3: That’s just it. I don’t. Are you sure you don’t have anything?
Mr McGuffin: The only thing I would have in your budget is a Deus Ex Machina. But I don’t recommend them. I mean, you can’t just have someone paragliding past, or, say, a fighter pilot on training manoeuvres picking them up. That would be silly.
Writer 3: I’m desperate. I’ll take it. If I try really hard, I could work the Deus Ex Machina into their clothing, I dunno – tiny parachutes or something – and have them save themselves.
Mr McGuffin: On your own head be it. But I must ask you not to say you got it here. If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll give you 50% off. Deal?
Writer 3: Deal! Oh thank you, Mr MacGuffin! You’re the best!
Mr McGuffin: [sighing] You all say that, and yet you forget about me the moment I’m out of sight.
Writer 3 leaves, whistling. And as for Mr McGuffin… well. That would be telling.
– ENDS –