A backstory is the beginning of whence an actual event took place. It is the bridge that allows the past to flow into and connect with the future. The backstory is the pinnacle of empowerment that propels the plot forward.
In the language of film, the backstory can be seen as a McGuffin, the famous “nothing in particular,” that pushes the story forward. The McGuffin is an intelligent device to have in the backstory because it’s power of nothingness drives the story forward and keeps the viewer engrossed and pinning for the outcome. The viewer is at some point diverged and strewn towards another heart stopping path.
Hitchcock was a master in using the McGuffin, he enticed the viewers and drew them in, a popular example is “Rear Window” and the looming question of ‘what is buried in the garden,’ this brilliant McGuffin keeps the audience pinned and guessing. At some point in all suspense, thrillers, and comedies the McGuffin becomes the insignificant factor and is all but forgotten as the first and second acts build to the climatic third act. Hitchcock was also talented in drawing out the McGuffin so that the third and final act “of the film would carry even more impact” (essortment 2002). This impact often leaves the audience with that final climax still in mind and with it all the makings of a successful and suspenseful and memorable film.
We could say that the sitcom Sienfeld was nothing but a big McGuffin. The creators of this show were very clever and knew exactly what they were doing. Quite artistically introducing the McGuffin that drove the show forward and dropped it along the way without the audience even realising.
So whether you are writing a script or a novel and you want something to drive your story but are unsure, then use my favourite friend – the McGuffin, the special nothing that catapults the story forward.
essortment. (2002). “Alfreed Hitchcock film techniques.” Retrieved 05/11/11, from http://www.essortment.com/all/alfredhitchcoc_rvhd.htm