The MacGuffin is a device used in books and movies to propel the plot and to give the characters motivation. It’s often an object or an inconsequential character.
But what happens when the MacGuffin becomes your favourite character in the book?
In the original outline for Thicker Than Water, Ruth Dyer was little more than a MacGuffin. She was the woman everyone wanted to find or keep: Robert wanted control over her as a form of revenge, Ben wanted her back from Robert, and Jess wanted to prove her worth as steward and sister-in-law by rescuing her.
But as I worked on the book, Ruth started to emerge from the shadows and become more than just a plot device.
I decided quite early on to write some of the chapters from her point of view. This was the only way to show what was happening at the farm before Jess arrived (or at least it was until I decided to add Martin as a point of view character). But once I’d added Martin, I liked Ruth enough to want to keep her chapters.
Ruth starts out in Thicker Than Water as a solid, steadfast kind of woman who’s the rock around which her family revolves. She helped Jess and Ben’s mother, Sonia, make the journey north to the village, and used her fledgling medical skills to treat her when she was dying. She’s a loving mum and the kind of wife who keeps her husband from tipping over into his own self-obsession. And of course she becomes the village doctor, and is indispensable in that role.
But the experience of being kidnapped and threatened by Robert gives her a steely determination. She finds the courage and strength to escape, and then to return to the place where she suffered so much, despite desperately not wanting to go back.
In Sea Of Lies she’s a more minor character. The book focuses on Sarah, Martin and Dawn, and the emergence of the secrets they are keeping from each other and the terrible things that happened in their past.
But she does play a role, albeit in more of a MacGuffin guise. She’s arrested for Robert’s murder, making Martin feel guilty and the rest of the village angry that she’s been taken from them once again. It has an impact on Martin’s reluctance to stay at the village and on Sarah’s torn feelings towards him.
In One Of Us, Ruth re-emerges as a point of view character. We see how she is coping (or not coping) six months after her kidnapping and the dropping of charges against her. We see how treating a seriously injured villager takes her back to the kitchen and the scene of Robert’s death, and how she struggles to distinguish her husband Ben from her attacker Robert. Not to mention her confusion about Ben’s culpability in the whole thing and initial refusal to take responsibility.
I enjoyed writing Ruth again. She’s a woman I’d like to know in real life: she’s loyal, and loving, and big hearted, as well as being tough when it’s needed. And my beta readers liked her too: it seems I’m not the only person for whom she’s my favourite character.
Who’s your favourite character in the village books? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below and tell me.