It isn’t easy setting up a story where you have to get a bunch of things to make one thing or stop someone. There’s the risk of tedium, repetition, and getting visited by the irritable McGuffin fairy. He doesn’t take or leave anything, but just sits at the foot of your bed staring at you with disdain. So, what are some ways to use this story line without falling into the abyss?
- Plan out most, if not all, of the needed items beforehand. You don’t want to run the risk of getting stuck in a loop because you can’t figure out where to stop. Choose a number and stick to it. If you want to add more stories then you can always have one get lost and need to be found again. Maybe something happens to put this story on the shelf for a book or two. Just make sure you aren’t trying to have the characters gather 100 things. This really only works for books aimed at really little kids who love repetition.
- Give a better reason for the protagonists to find these things besides ‘it is the only way for the story to progress’. Sure, it can go that way, but you need to give them initial reason to go on the hunt. This can range from wanting to save the world to a destiny, but you really want to sit down and think. Perhaps the hero knows using all of these things together can save the world while the user dies, so he’s out on a suicide mission. This gives a depth to him and the story. I mean, what happens if he reaches the end and decides that he wants to live?
- Do not actually name the items McGuffins. Seriously, that’s really only done with parodies and it’s not that original.
- Try to create a variety of ways that these things are gained. They can be in dungeons, held by villains, swallowed by monsters, prizes in competitions, and whatever else your imagination creates. Much of this depends on how well-known these items are too. If the world is aware of them being important then you will have a bigger hunt. If not then one of them could be the third place prize in a World’s Most Beautiful Kneecaps pageant.
- You really need to have some competition for these items. It could be the antagonist out to destroy/take them for himself, which is the most common. After all, he/she/it probably knows about this potential threat. Then again, there is a history of villains not realizing that there are these powerful items designed specifically to destroy their plans. Another option is a rival who wants these things for their own ends and have stumbled onto their existence. This allows you to create tension on if the protagonist will be the one to get each item or if they will fail at some point.
- It is not necessary that every piece of whatever is being gathered has it’s own power. I know this is tempting because many people see the gaining of a new ability as character development. You can easily make these things useless unless they are together, which forces your heroes to become stronger through other means. Now, I’m not saying you can go the route of ‘one item, one power’. Just make sure you don’t use this in place of character development.
- Come up with a history for these items to help the audience understand why they are so important. Who made them? Have they been used before? How did they get separated? These are questions that will give more depth to the world and the overall story. Stating that they are important because they are important won’t help with readers who want more meat on their fiction.