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  • Writer's picturejakestrongmagic

Storytelling and Magic

I always like to preface these with saying it's a writing for magicians that can be used by other people, and I believe that stands true yet again. Regardless, this is a little peek into how I see the world on a daily basis.

Everyone sees the world through a specific lens. Photographers notice the smaller beauties in life and imagine how their essence can be captured in a single frame. Movers look at the world in terms of space, what can perfectly fit where and how can you optimize use of any area. Magicians can look at the world one of two ways. One is from the angle of methodology, seeing the little flaws in human logic and how they can be exploited and packaged as a trick. The other way magicians see things, and this is more how I see the world, is in terms of performance and presentation. In this case, the world's a stage and everyone in front of you at a given moment is your audience even when you’re just telling your friend a story.

You probably know someone who is terrible at telling stories. They leave too many details in, the plot always meanders, and at the conclusion you have to fake the laugh or look of amazement they were expecting from the start. This is the equivalent of a bad performer going up on stage and bombing. A lot can be learned not only from seeing someone tell a story well, but also someone telling a story wrong.

A bad storyteller almost always doesn’t know their audience. They tell a joke that has a dirty punchline to their 61-year-old Catholic aunt. The details they excruciate over include so much lingo you don’t understand nor want to understand. This isn’t always an indictment on the story itself but more who it is presented to. There is someone in the world that will find your dirty punchline funny, you just have to find that person. And if you don’t think the person in front of you is that audience, don’t tell the story. Save yourself and your friend’s time by holding it in however funny you think it may be.

The same goes for magic. You may have been practicing your center deal for months and you’re ready to execute probably the most difficult routine you’ve ever accomplished by secretly dealing yourself a royal flush. Don’t show that routine to a third grader. However good your sleight of hand is, it won't be appreciated. Next time you tell a story or perform a new routine and the person seems to not get it like you thought they would think if they were the best person to tell it to. And if not, make sure you find the right person next time you pull that out of your repertoire.

A better way to find out if a story is a good one is to reveal the ending at the beginning. This may seem counterintuitive, and there are definitely some stories that benefit from not revealing the ending especially if it’s a big twist. However, a great story should stand on the merits of the journey and not the ending. Even if you reveal the ending at the start, the listener should still be engrossed the entire time wondering exactly how you’ll get to the endpoint. There is something to be said about prioritizing suspense over surprise. Suspense keeps you engaged the entire time and keeps you thinking about what's going to happen even if you may know the ultimate outcome. Surprise depends entirely on you not knowing what’s going to happen. If that surprise is even tipped slightly, that story loses all of its importance.

Again, the same goes for magic. A great trick gets its importance heightened when you know exactly what is going to happen yet it still happens. For example, if there is a clear envelope behind the audience and you tell everyone a signed card you are holding will appear in there, that’s a great trick. It will be entirely more impressive than if you tell everyone to turn around and it was just there. By revealing the conclusion, the audience members are enticed to stay along for the journey to see how it will happen. In this case, the method also has to be incredible because there will be audience members who are watching that envelope the entire time. This will not only heighten your method creation but also heighten their amazement when it actually happens. Again, this cannot be used for every trick but try to see which ones it can work for and see how audiences sit on the edge of their seats.

This is just the beginning of exploring how to improve your magic through telling stories and vice versa. The most important thing is you’re not afraid to try something new in fear of failure. Sometimes it isn’t going to work out exactly how you pictured and you’re gonna tell someone a story in a non-linear fashion and they won’t understand. Do not blame them for not understanding you, just go back to the drawing board and ask yourself was that the right person to tell the story to and would switching up the order of the story improve it? Many magicians are hesitant to experiment on stage, so experiment next time you’re telling a story to your friend and let what you learn from that experience slowly seep into your performances.

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