MacGyver and writing — a pair made in heaven? Many of you will remember MacGyver, the mild-mannered scientist-turned-government-agent that could rig a bomb with a shoelace or take down a bad guy with a couple of twist-ties and a rubber band. Some younger writers may not, but never fear–word has it that there’s a MacGyver remake on the horizon, so stay tuned!
MacGyver’s specialty was being able to use ordinary, everyday objects to do amazing things like escape from holding cells, foil bank robbers, and pretty much save the world. On top of it all, he did it all without guns, preferring brains over brawn in most situations.
So what does this have to do writing? Turns out, a lot.
First of all, the series was so popular that the name MacGyver went on to become a verb. As in, “I couldn’t get the car to start, so I MacGyvered it with a toothpick and a D-ring.” Beyond that, MacGyver’s methods give us great ways to improve writing.
Villains are bad. Very bad. And they are often responsible for stunningly evil deeds. But as good writers know, sometimes the most frightening things are those we see every day. Stephen King certainly knew this. The creepy clown in “It”, the possessed car in “Christine”, man’s best friend in “Cujo”, and even a loyal fan (“Misery”) are all common objects that—through clever storytelling—fill the reader with horror and dread. Mr. King doesn’t have a monopoly on this literary device, so you’re free to snatch it for your own stories. When you’re thinking about creating your next villain, make him or her (or it!) something or someone from the mundane world. Then and sit back and wait for the screaming to start!
Even if you’re writing hard sci-fi, there’s a place for some MacGyvery! Having your characters use what they’ve got available to them makes them more realistic to readers; more “human” if you will. Even if your character is a one-armed purple people eater from Mars, getting him to fasten open the airlock with a piece of rope rather than telekinesis lends him an air of believability. Not that you have to go with all low-tech solutions. If a sixth sense, super power, or high-tech submachine gun is appropriate, write it in. Just don’t forget the everyday details!
Once in a while you unsuspectingly write your characters into a place where there isn’t much to work with. I recently did this in a novella where a character fell down a mine shaft and then has to fight the forces of evil. What did she have with her? Just what she was wearing when she fell—in this case jeans, sneakers, a button-down shirt, belt, cell phone, and silver earrings. Believe it or not, she had all the tools she needed. Not only did a little swift MacGyvering allow my character to show off her smarts, it allowed her to overcome the internal obstacle of uncertainty about her abilities. All of this translated into a whopping win for my story. Try infusing your characters with a little MacGyverism to highlight their creativity, grace under pressure, quick-wittedness, or any number of characteristics.
If you hit a snag with your writing, don’t worry–just channel a little MacGyver for yourself. One of his famous catchphrases is: “If I had some duct tape, I could fix that!” So grab some duct tape, tape your butt to the seat of your chair and keep writing. Miracles will happen!
See you on the next page!