Memorable Magic: Wrap-Up

Published on Thursday, November 29, 2007 in , , , , , ,

Made To StickI hope you've enjoyed my Memorable Magic series. As we wrap up both the series and the month of November, I thought I would include some closing thoughts.

So that everyone can link to a single post, as well as understand the purpose of each principle, I'm including this list:
* For clarity, employ simplicity.
* To get and keep attention, employ the unexpected.
* To help people understand and remember, employ concreteness.
* For better audience conviction, develop credibility.
* To help people care about your performance, employ the principles of emotions.
* To inspire people, use stories.

Chip and Dan Heath propose the acronym SUCCES (success without the final s) to help remember these six principles: Simplicity, the Unexpected, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories.

If you go back and look at the example videos in each post, you'll notice each of them are actually a mix of a number of these principles. You don't need to limit yourself to a single principle, nor do you need to employ every principle. The basic idea is that the more of the principles you use in a particular routine, the more memorable it is likely to be.

Also, remember the concept I mentioned in the stories post. Each of these ideas is made more effective when you use them to move from common sense to uncommon sense. Think about your favorite movies: Star Wars IV starts with Luke believing a few group of amateurs can't be effective against the Empire, while The Wizard of Oz starts out with Dorothy believing that they don't understand her at home. By the end of both of those movies, uncommon sense prevails.

Another concept that helps make magic memorable is sharing a universal idea as if it were a particular. This is a difficult idea to boil down quickly, but you can learn more about this idea in James Sedgwick's posts What is Art? and Certainty and Art. It is also discussed thoroughly in the unfortunately-out-of-print book Rants into Raves. However, you can find two excerpts of that book online, the first being The Act and the second being this snippet from the Wrap-Up chapter.

From the Story Fanatic blog, which I mentioned earlier, there are several posts to which I'd like to draw your attention. Thinking of Your Audience First helps you understand the effect on your audiences of even seemingly minor decisions in your performance. In addition to the principles of keeping attention, a good understanding Of Ticking Clocks and the Ending of Stories is a great help.

While Dramatica, the creative writing software whose techniques are featured in Story Fanatic, is geared towards grand argument stories, magic routines tend to be more like short stories. Katharine Huntley's questions about James Thurber's Catbird Seat is a great example of a simpler approach that is suitable for story magic. Applying these questions to your own routine is a great way to add true depth and emotion.

If you're confused by any of the terms here, I suggest reading the Dramatica comic book (PDF, opens in new window) and Dramatica's Theory section.

You'll be hard pressed to find more detail on these ideas than the Made to Stick book itself, so I highly recommend you buy it and read it. I'll wrap the Memorable Magic series, and this post, up with this slideshow, which sums up the concepts quite well:


Memorable Magic: Stories

Published on Sunday, November 25, 2007 in , , , , , ,

Made To StickStory magic hasn't always had a good reputation. Story magic isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does lose power when not properly employed.

Probably the biggest complaint about stories in magic is that they're so passive compared to routines in which the audience makes choices. If that were true, story magic would have died out long ago. Psychologists have actually studied the matter in great detail, and found that stories aren't actually passive at all. Many people think that, when hearing a story, simply pictures the story in the same manner as a movie screen.

It turns out that the brain simulates the story as it hears it! In one study, people were asked to read one of two stories. In one story, there was the sentence, “John put on his sweatshirt before he went jogging.” Another group was given a story that included the sentence, “John took off his sweatshirt before he went jogging.” This was the only difference between the two stories. Later on, while John was still jogging, both stories made reference to the sweatshirt as a part of the plot. People who were given the story in which John had taken his sweatshirt off actually took longer to read that sentence that the other group!

If people were just picturing the story passively, the latter reference to the sweatshirt wouldn't be a problem. The sweatshirt would just be pictured, and they would move on. However, in the minds of the second group, the sweatshirt was still back at the house, so it was harder to understand. If you've ever perused a Nitpicker's Guide, you know how powerful this tendency can be!

In the Made To Stick book, where you can read more about these studies, Chip and Dan Heath explain the two most powerful aspects of stories. First, they describe how to act in a particular situation, and second, they also inspire people to act.

If you're trying to move people to action, as when you're advertising your services, stories are the best way to do this. In story magic, we're not trying to take advantage of the power of stories to act. Instead, we're taking advantage of the simulation power of the stories to engage the audience. Interactive routines engage the audience by letting them make choices that affect the outcome. Story routines engage the audience by letting them put themselves in the role of a hero!

Great stories obviously have the power to engage the audience, but what makes a great story?

First and foremost is the classic story structure: 1) Get the hero up a tree, 2) Throw rocks at the hero, and 3) Get the hero down from the tree. It sounds far too simple, but this is the structure of almost every one of your favorite stories. In the Situational Meaning section of Strong Magic, Darwin Ortiz goes into great detail in how to structure a good story.

One other secret to a good story is to structure it so that it moves the audience from common sense to uncommon sense. Effective stories explain why common sense isn't always the best way to go. In fact, moving from common sense to uncommon sense is an idea that can be applied not just to stories, but also to all the concepts we've discussed in this series. You can make simplicity, the unexpected, concreteness, credibility and emotions far more effective by applying this concept (aren't you glad you read this far?).

Unless you're going to be a professional screenwriter or novelist, you're probably not going to be creating your own original stories. While you should certainly study the principles of effective stories, at places like Dramatica.com and Story Fanatic, your time will probably be better spent in looking for stories you can use effectively in your routines. The question then becomes, what types of stories are most effective in engaging the audience?

There are three basic types of stories that will prove the most effective. These aren't the only styles, of course, but you will find that these constitute the majority of stories you enjoy.

The first type is the classic challenge story. In this story, the hero meets up with an obstacle, deals with the complications, and resolves the situation in their favor. When you hear the classic hero-and-tree story structure, this is usually the first type of story that comes to mind. The following routine, Triumph, is a classic card trick that gets a large part of its power from a challenge story:

I've seen too many amateur magicians who perform Triumph without the story. The presentation is usually along the lines of now, I'll give the deck a few cuts, and now I'll shuffle the cards face-up into face-down, now I'll make a magic pass over the cards, and so on. As I suggested with the Inquisition video from my Concreteness post, watch this video again with the sound off, and see how much power it loses when reduced to simple actions.

The second type of story is the connection story. In this structure, the focus is on two people trying to establish a relationship despite the barriers between them. Romeo and Juliet and Titanic are great examples of this structure. In many of the pieces that David Copperfield performs to music, he employs this structure. My favorite example of a magical connection story would have to be Metempsychosis, also known as The Blue Room:

In this case, the late husband's ghost is trying to reconnect with his widow, and death is the barrier. Especially interesting is the fact that the entire story is told without saying a word. This routine is also a story within a story, as this routine was lost to history in 1878. It wasn't until the mid-90s that magicians were able to discover and decode the notes on how this illusion was created.

The final type of story, the creativity story, isn't seen much in magic. The creativity story could also be called the MacGyver story. As you might guess, this is where the hero overcomes the major obstacle through the use of ingenuity and creativity. Since I couldn't find an example of this routine for you on video, and because stories also work well in words, I'd like to share with you the script from Robert Neale's Pebble Puzzle, from Tricks of the Imagination (comments in italics are mine):

Sometimes we do get tired of being stuck with our own perspectives. I see a glass half filled with wine, somebody else sees it as half empty, and neither of us can appreciate the viewpoint of the other. Worse, there are problems that cannot be solved without a shift which gives us a fresh point of view. Remember that hungry chimpanzee with a banana placed outside its cage and just out of reach? It tried and tried to get it. Finally, it picked up a stick, put it through the bars, and pulled the banana within reach. It would be nice if we could always make that shift when it was needed. We try all our usual approaches to no avail, then, like magic, a flash of insight comes with a new perspective. There is an old folk tale that illustrates how new insight can solve an apparently impossible problem.

There was a young woman with a most magical mind. Her father owed a very large debt to an evil moneylender and had no way to repay it. The moneylender offered to cancel her father's debt if he agreed to a wager. A red pebble and a white pebble would be placed in a bag, and the daughter would select one. If she got the red pebble, the debt would be canceled. But if she got the white pebble, she would have to marry the moneylender. The father and daughter agreed that they had no choice but to take the risk.

The moneylender picked up two pebbles from the ground. One was red and the other was white. He tossed them into a bag and then handed the bag to the young woman
(One red and one white pebble are shown, and placed into the magician's fist). She shook it up to mix the contents. Being no fool, she also took a peek. To her dismay, both pebbles were white (The magician opens the hand, and both pebbles are shown to be white)!

The dilemma was terrifying. If she exposed the moneylender as a deceiver, he would have her father sent to prison for not paying the debt. If she took one of the identical pebbles, she would have to marry an evil man. What could she do?

Fortunately, she had a most magical mind. So she thought and then acted. She reached into the bag and took out a pebble. Then, feigning nervousness, she dropped it before anyone could see its color. It was now lost among all the other pebbles on the ground
(The magician makes one of the white pebbles vanish).

“Oh! It is all right,” she said. “We can determine what my choice was. It would be the opposite to what is in the bag now.”

She reached into the bag and took out the remaining pebble. It was white, so the debt had to be canceled.

Magicians have always been told not to turn their tricks into puzzles or challenges, however this puzzle has successfully turned a puzzle into a trick. The audience is never challenged to figure out how to solve the moneylender's dilemma. Further, the magic is used to illustrate important points in the story, and not to challenge the audience. Finally, the story helps the audience associate with the hero. They're inspired by the story, and may even pass it on as happening to them!

Stories are the best way to go, if you want people to associate and get inspiration from your magic. For more on the power of stories, check out the story category of the Made To Stick blog.

See also:
Memorable Magic: Simplicity
Memorable Magic: The Unexpected
Memorable Magic: Concreteness
Memorable Magic: Credibility
Memorable Magic: Emotions


Memorable Magic: Emotions

Published on Thursday, November 22, 2007 in , , , , , ,

Made To StickMagicians have long been aware of the power of emotional performances, but they've also struggled with creating them.

The best way to start getting people to care about your performances, is to understand what they care about. As Mother Theresa framed this principle, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Joseph Stalin stated the same principle in a much more cynical manner, “One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.” Either way, a focus on smaller groups and/or the individual is a great way to start. This principle is best described in detail, in the article Inside the Monkeysphere (mirror article).

Besides focusing on the few or the one, you should also remember that emotions aren't a new experience for your audience. They have an entire mental library of experiences of which you can take advantage. If you can link your routine to emotional ideas held by your audience, you've made your act memorable and powerful. Magician Tina Lenert does just this with her renowned cleaing lady routine:

The emotional associations in this routine are so strong that most people find themselves forgetting that there is only one person on stage, not two. Throughout this routine, it's easy to identify the nervousness of meeting someone new, the process of falling in love with them, and even the overall theme of hope and imagination. You begin to treat the broom-and-mop guy as a separate character from the cleaning lady, because the emotional associations are so strong and clear.

David Copperfield's torn-and-restored $500,000 baseball card is a simpler example of association. True, few of us can relate to owning a half-million dollar collectible, but we can all relate to the idea of having something valuable destroyed. This makes the possibility of restoration very emotionally appealing. It's next to impossible to give association the space it deserves in a single blog entry. However, if you would like to learn more, Kenton Knepper has written an entire book on just this topic, called Mystery By Association.

One of the dangers of employing association is the overuse of it. In his 16th special, David Copperfield presented a routine called Grandfather's Aces. It's an ace routine given an emotional context of doing the trick in honor of his grandfather, who taught him the trick, but died before David ever did a big show. The routine on the special itself was well presented. However, it did trigger a problem.

Not only did the ace routine itself prove popular among magicians, but so did the idea of appealing to the emotions through the use of dead grandparents. You even started seeing marketed tricks that employed the idea, such as Grandpa's Day at the Races and Grandpa's Deck. It got so bad that a new term was added to the magician's lexicon: dead-grandfather tricks.

The more technical term for this is semantic stretch. When an emotional association (or word, or phrase, or...) is overused, its effectiveness decreases. Overused associations are the primary cause of an audience feeling like you're just trying to pull emotional heartstrings. In Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath detail how semantic stretch happened to the word unique and the concept of sportsmanship. The unsurprising answer is to employ associations that are distinctive for your presentations and style.

Another way to involve your audience emotionally is to appeal to their self-interest. One look at most advertisements would give the impression that this is as simple as using fear, greed and sex. True self-interest is more than that. It wasn't until 1954 that Abraham Maslow brought to light a more thorough list of needs. Take a look at how Derren Brown uses self-interest to make this routine more memorable and effective:

Yes, fear (physiological/safety/security), greed (security/esteem) and sex (belonging/esteem) are powerful needs, but they're not the only needs. There is nothing wrong with appealing to them, as Derren Brown demonstrates.

The problem is when you appeal only to those, a concept known as staying in Maslow's basement (using only the most basic of Maslow's needs). First, it makes a presentation stale, and second, it shows a lack of true concern for your audiences. Derren Brown has numerous other routines that could easily be classified as appealing to aesthetic or self-actualization needs.

One final principle of emotional presentation is that of appealing to identity. On the surface, this sounds the same as self-interest, but it's distinctly different. In self-interest, the mental question is: How does this affect my interests? In indentity, there are three questions: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? and What would a person like me do in a situation like this? In other words, self-interest appeals to the individual, while identity both the individual and their monkeysphere.

For example, take a look at David Blaine performing his two-card monte routine. In this case, we're not so much interested in the first part with Emmitt Smith (although this is a great way of establishing credibility as an entertainer), but the second part, where he's performing for a group in Compton:

In performing this for the group in Compton, David Blaine had to appeal to their identity first. These people aren't tourists looking for entertainment, they're in their neighborhood, and likely suspicious of any stranger (especially when he's bringing along a camera crew). David Blaine acts like them, talks like them, and appeals to their interest, thus making it easier to connect with them. Can you picture any of these people watching David Copperfield or Derren Brown? Further, anyone living in a similar manner who is watching this special can also immediately connect with David Blaine.

Every magician wants their audience to care about what they do. Designing your act to be authentically appealing to the emotions is the way to do that. For more on the power of emotions, check out the emotion category of the Made To Stick blog.

See also:
Memorable Magic: Simplicity
Memorable Magic: The Unexpected
Memorable Magic: Concreteness
Memorable Magic: Credibility


Memorable Magic: Credibility

Published on Sunday, November 18, 2007 in , , , , , ,

Made To StickSuspension of disbelief, like misdirection, is one of those concepts in magic that is important, yet inaccurately described.

The phrase misdirection suggests that attention can be drawn away, when in actuality, all you can do is direct attention toward something. In a similar manner, you need to create belief, instead of negating disbelief.

The question then becomes, how do you establish credibility in magic? There are two major ways to establish credibility in your routines: externally and internally.

There are two basic ways to establish external credibility, with an authority on the topic, or what Chip and Dan Heath have dubbed an antiauthority. An authority, of course, is someone who is believable because of the knowledge they have and/or the respect they've generated in their field. By contrast, an antiauthority is someone who has suffered from their lack of knowledge in a particular field. For example, when it comes to the dangers of smoking, an authority might be someone like the Surgeon General, or a scientist who studies the effects of smoking, while an antiauthority might be someone like Barb Tarbox or Pam Laffin.

Antiauthorities aren't employed in magic very often (hmmm...any routine that did use an antiauthority would be different and original, wouldn't it?), but authorities are used quite often. Our perennial example, David Copperfield, employs credibility through authority in his imploding building escape:

In this clip, you see Copperfield establish credibility by having audience members inspect the steel plate, by referring to the 1st Security Safe Co., and through inspection by members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. If you watch the full episode, he actually goes even further by showing and mentioning the work of Controlled Demolition, Inc., and D. H. Griffin Wrecking in preparing the building for demolition.

External credibility can be great, but what about those of us who don't have the budget to employ authorities and/or antiauthorities? This is where internal credibility comes in handy.

First, there is the use of convincing details. Many of the the methods that magicians have developed to create internal credibility, as noted in the conviction section of Strong Magic, use this idea. There are many routines that employ the use of an apparent mistake to establish the credibility of the conditions in the routine.

Notice the mention in the outline of evoking a mental image. The use of concreteness, besides helping people understand and remember, can also help develop credibility. If you want to establish some fact or statistic to increase your credibility, make them accessible. In Strong Magic, Darwin Ortiz mentions a Peter Duffie routine involving two cards that are torn in half, and half of each card is then destroyed. The point that needs to be dramatized here is the uniqueness of each tear pattern. Darwin Ortiz' script for this point is wonderfully evocative: “Did you ever see one of those old spy movies where the secret agent is given half of a torn dollar bill? Later, when he meets his contact, the contact produces the other half of the bill and they compare them to make sure they match. That way, the hero knows his contact isn't an impostor. This is because any time you tear any piece of paper, you create a jagged edge that is as unique as a fingerprint. You could sit in a room tearing playing cards eight hours a day for ten years and never succeed in getting two with identical edges.

While he could have said that the odds of getting an identical tear is 1 in 6 billion (or whatever the odds are), the vivid image of sitting in a room for an extremely long time tearing playing cards drives the point home much better, and establishes credibility. The reference to the uniqueness of a fingerprint also drives the point home. In my recent posts on visualizing pi, mathematical concepts, and scale, as well as the visualization section of my StumbleUpon blog, you can find plenty of inspiration for creating your own vivid images.

The next principle of internal credibility I'll discuss has long been used, but was named after a particular gentleman because he summed it up so perfectly. It's called the Sinatra Principle: If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere. Jim Steinmeyer, for example, in his profile, establishes his credibility by mentioning his illusion design work for Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy, and Lance Burton. Right away, it's safe to assume that, if you want an original illusion designed for your show, he is qualified enough to handle the task.

The final principle, which is also used frequently in magic presentations, is that of testable claims. Use claims that the audience can check for themselves. In magic, this can be as simple as using a borrowed, shuffled deck for a routine. In Richiardi's sawing, as seen in my Unexpected post, he uses this idea by letting the spectators get a close look at the body after the sawing, as well as using real organs for the ...um... spillage.

To wrap this up, I'll show you a card routine. It's unusual in that it employs both internal and external credibility:

How many of the principles did you find? The most obvious are the use of the casino surveillance team (external credibility: authority), and the timing of the routine (internal credibility: testable credentials). There's also the mention of his world champion status (internal credibility: Sinatra principle), and the fact that he's performing in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace (external credibility: authority and internal credibility: Sinatra principle).

If you need to create belief in what you're doing, and agree that the conditions for your routine are fair, then establishing credibility is key. For more on the power of credible ideas, check out the credibility category of the Made To Stick blog.

See also:
Memorable Magic: Simplicity
Memorable Magic: The Unexpected
Memorable Magic: Concreteness


Memorable Magic: Concreteness

Published on Thursday, November 15, 2007 in , , , , , , ,

Made To StickHow would you like to give clarity to your routines, so that they're easier for your audiences to understand and remember?

The trick is to make it concrete, less abstract.

When Aesop decided to record a set of morals, it would have been all too easy to simply list the moral ideals themselves. He knew that to make them easier to understand and remember, he would need to tell concrete stories. Instead of simply saying, “Misery loves company,” he gives us the story of The Fox Who Lost His Tail. Instead of Aesop's List of Moral Ideals, which probably would be long forgotten, we have Aesop's Fables, which has spanned both countries and centuries!

If you look over my memory and memory feat posts, as well as the various memory systems themselves, you'll note that the underlying technique is to find a way to make abstract concepts easier to visualize.

Numbers are the ultimate abstraction. In the Number Shape System, numbers are turned into pictures of items like a tire, a candle, or a swan that are easier to picture, and in the Number Rhyme System, they're turned into items that sound like the number, such as gun, shoe, and tree. Even in the more complex Peg/Major System, where each digit is turned into a phonetic sound, and the sounds are then combined to make words, you're advised to limit yourself to words that are nouns or verbs.

Why the limitation to nouns and verbs? What makes them, or anything else for that matter, more concrete? The answer is surprisingly simple. Something is concrete when you can experience it through at least one of your five senses (vision, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting). Our brains are specially designed to bring in information about the world through these pathways, so any concept that employs our senses can be quickly grasped.

Think about it. What is the definition of beauty? That is an abstract concept, because it is next to impossible to describe through the use of the senses. How about if I ask you the definition of, say, garden hose? That's much easier! It's a flexible tube for conveying a liquid, as water, to a desired point. You can picture the tube and the water easily. You know what flexibility feels like.

What effect can being more concrete have in magic presentations? Watch Eugene Burger perform Inquisition:

Did you notice the sensory detail in this routine? When the torture device is prepared behind the victim's back, you can imagine the beads of sweat. You can feel the torture device being pressed against your spine, and many even wince when the cards are torn, as you're hearing bones breaking! To see the difference concreteness can make, turn the sound off, and watch the video again. While you can still see some of the attitude in Eugene Burger's face, it is actually a completely different experience!

If you want to learn more about developing concrete magic presentations, the current masters of this style of presentation that first come to my mind are (There are, of course, many more current and past masters, as I will no doubt be reminded in the comments):
* Eugene Burger
* Robert Neale
* David Parr
* Docc Hilford

As a matter of fact, Docc's DVD, How to Turn Ordinary Tricks into Mind-Shaking Miracles, deserves special mention here. This DVD will show you not only how to make your own presentations more concrete, but how to use sensory detail to such great effect that you can have people remember much more happening that you actually performed! As an example, Docc performs a few simple effects with matches, yet the audience leaves with a memory of him performing a classic spook show, including decapitations, cremations, levitations and vanishes!

Lack of concreteness is also a major cause of lack of communication. What if a doctor tells a mother that her child has, say, Xeroderma pigmentosum? She (like most of us) probably wouldn't have the first idea what could be done, or what is involved. Instead, the doctor would tell the mother that, due to a rare genetic condition, her child cannot be exposed to direct sunlight, without risking skin cancer. However, putting the vivid description into the child's medical file for other doctors and nurses to read would also cause confusion. In the case of the medical records, it's much more efficient and effective to just use the phrase Xeroderma pigmentosum.

In short, abstract concepts are great when experts are talking to other experts. However, you should also remember, as Will Rogers said, “There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get off the thing that he was educated in. ” Actually, it's not that non-experts are stupid, but rather that you need to make your case easier to understand and remember by getting them across in vivid sensory detail. Fans of the show Numb3rs will instantly recognize Charlievision as a great example of this idea.

If you want more of your audience to understand and remember your routines, present them in vivid detail. For more on the power of concrete ideas, check out the concreteness category of the Made To Stick blog.

See also:
Memorable Magic: Simplicity
Memorable Magic: The Unexpected


Memorable Magic: The Unexpected

Published on Sunday, November 11, 2007 in , , , , , ,

Made To StickJust about every magic performance employs an unexpected happening, but remarkably few presentations employ unexpectedness.

Take the Heaven on the Seventh Floor video I mentioned in my Simplicity post. The elevator is shown empty, closed up, and then David Copperfield magically appears inside it. Once the elevator was shown empty, almost everyone who sees this expects a magical appearance. To be fair, this routine gets its memorability, its stickiness, from simplicity, not unexpectedness.

Unexpected presentations are about attention. More specifically, unexpected routines are about getting attention and keeping attention (directing attention is another matter entirely). Getting attention actually requires a different approach than keeping attention, so I'll discuss them one at a time.

I'll start with an example of getting attention right out of the Made To Stick book:

This ad takes advantage of an established pattern, that of standard car ads. It then, jarringly, breaks that pattern. The unforeseen breaking of a pattern would seem to a sufficient definition of the unexpected. But what if a gigantic green monster jumped out in front of the car, picked it up, and swallowed the car and its occupants whole? That would certainly break a pattern and be unforeseen, but that ad would have a much weaker impact.

While the breaking of the pattern can't be foreseeable, it should be a natural outgrowth of what has happened before. In Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath coined the word postdictable to describe this concept. A good example of a postdictable idea would be the twist ending of The Sixth Sense. Once you've learned it, you can go back through the movie and see the clues that led up to it.

In contrast, recall the episode of Dallas in which Pam learns her husband Bobby is still alive, despite his being killed earlier in the same season. When it was revealed that the entire season was just a dream, it certainly made that episode memorable, but it also made that episode regarded as one of the most gimmicky in TV history.

As an example of getting attention in magic, view this video of an escape by David Copperfield:

Note that the routine is presented as an escape, with the focus on the dwindling time he has, depicted by the clock and the height of the saw blade. That pattern is then broken, and even highlighted with sparks!

Getting attention is great for a few moments. What about when you need to keep attention for an extended period of time?

Look at any mystery movie or TV show. They have to keep your attention it for up to 1-2 hours! While the twists and turns in the plot are certainly part of the mystery, these unexpected moments aren't what are keeping your attention. At the beginning of the msytery, a gap is created in your knowledge, and this gap isn't fulfilled until the end. You're constantly asking, “What will happen? Am I right?”

As Darwin Ortiz explains in his book Strong Magic (see section 3b of the Dramatic Structure section of my Questions For Better Magic), the three major ways to do this in magic are to use mystery to evoke curiosity, conflict to evoke uncertainty and tension to evoke anticipation.

One of my favorite examples of keeping attention is a story about whether a lighter will light 10 times in a row. Does that sound boring? Described that way, it certainly is. However, this story starts with a young man bragging to beautiful woman that his lighter never fails to light. A bet with another man ensues as to this claim. The man bets his Cadillac that the younger man's lighter won't light 10 times in a row. As the younger man has nothing of equal value to bet, it is agreed that the young man will bet his little finger. If the young man wins, he gets the Cadillac, and if he loses, he loses his little finger. The lighter then starts lighting. It lights the first time, then the second.

I bet whether that lighter lights up 10 times in a row sounds much more interesting now. What happens? You'll have to read the story The Man From The South to find out!

Naturally, you don't want to read a mystery book, only to find the last few chapters missing. During most magic routines, you have to close the knowledge gap you've created. If you were to, say, bring out a case that occasionally moved by itself, and never revealed what was in the case, you could disappoint your audience, damaging interest in any later routines you perform. Also, just like when getting attention, the revelation must be postdictable!

Notice that I said most magic routines should close the knowledge gap, and that not closing the gap can damage interest in later routines. The closing routine is a special case. If you open up a knowledge gap as the end of your final act, you'll definitely be remembered. The South American magician Richiardi specialized in performing horror-themed magic. He'll always be remembered for how he closed his show:

Notice that this clip gets your attention right away by being narrated by Teller, the normally silent half of Penn & Teller! More importantly, notice the effect that the lack of closure has on the audience. Do you doubt anyone who saw his shows ever forgot him?

I should add that unexpectedness can be overused. If every routine you perform has a surprise ending, or begins by creating the knowledge gap, your audience begins to anticipate the unexpected turns, and the twists begin to lose their effectiveness. I mentioned earlier that Copperfield's Heaven on the Seventh Floor routine didn't employ any unexpected aspects. That doesn't mean its bad or not memorable. That just means that Copperfield was experienced enough to know that he could save unexpected occurences for parts of the show where they would be put to better use.

If you need to command attention, adding an unexpected element to your presentation is the key. For more on the power of the unexpected, check out the unexpectedness category of the Made To Stick blog.

See also:
Memorable Magic: Simplicity


Memorable Magic: Simplicity

Published on Thursday, November 08, 2007 in , , , , , ,

Made To StickWhat makes magic routines, or indeed any idea, memorable? There have been numerous works focusing on memorable ideas, both generally, such as Malcom Gladwell's Tipping Point, and in magic, such as Michael Ammar's Making Magic Memorable, but these focus more on sample memorable ideas. What I was curious about was the principles behind these ideas.

So were Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of the book Made To Stick. They examined what made any idea, real or imagined, stick in the human memory. What they found were six basic principles, which are detailed in the book. The best part is that the principles aren't just discussed abstractly, but so concretely that you actually understand how to apply them!

Made To Stick is a book that has been needed in so many fields, including magic performances for so long, I've decided to devote each of 6 posts, starting with this one, to one of the principles described in this book.

The most basic of the 6 principles is simplicity. Simplicity cuts through confusion, and directs focus. If you've ever been paralyzed by a decision, you were more than likely making things too complicated, or the basic ideas weren't clear enough.

How do you employ simplicity? Chip and Dan Heath describe the two major ingredients of simplicity. The first step is to find the core idea. Take a look at the first sentence of any story at Google News. You get the general idea of the story right there, thanks to the idea of the inverted pyramid. Find your core idea, and don't hide it; make sure that the idea is at the forefront.

The second part of simplicity is to take the core idea and make it compact. How do you make it compact? There are 3 basic ways: 1) Use existing ideas as a starting point, 2) create a "high concept pitch" to describe the idea, and 3) use analogies that act as a platform for new ways of thinking. An example of such "generative analogies" from the book is the Disney Store's use of a theatrical metaphor (customers are guests, uniforms are costumes, etc.).

In magic, as with any other type of idea, simplicity can be applied at numerous levels. David Blaine understood this when creating his performing persona. His core idea was that of a performer who didn't talk about himself much. David Blaine decided he was someone who seemed to come out of nowhere, work with simple items and whatever was in his environment, and then move on. He made this idea compact by referring to his persona as the "Mysterious Stranger" (which also became the title of his first book).

Note that he's so effective at creating this character that to picture him performing with large boxes on a Vegas stage is an almost comical image!

Simplicity can also be effective as an aid in presentation. David Copperfield spent years developing his persona as the romantic, man-about-town. On his 15th special, he opened up with a routine called Heaven on the Seventh Floor, which is memorable largely due to its simplicity. It takes advantage of a core idea, the persona Copperfield has worked hard to create, and presents that core in a compact manner. As proof, check out the first comment at IMDB's entry for that same TV special. Even though the special aired in 1992, and the comment wasn't written until 13 years later, the first trick they remembered was this one!

That's the power of simplicity. It acts as an icon, giving not only a general idea, but also quickly expressing what is part of a concept and what is not. For more on the power of simple ideas, check out the simplicity category of the Made To Stick blog.



Published on Sunday, November 04, 2007 in ,

MagicPediaMagic geeks, get ready to meet computer geeks! Genii Magazine has just introduced MagicPedia, their online magic wiki!

Before I lose too many readers, I'd like to get those who aren't familiar with wikis up to speed. Here is the basic wiki concept in plain English:

For more specifics on the editing basics of Wikipedia, and most other wikis (most follow these same conventions), read Geek to Live: How to contribute to Wikipedia.

Much like the famous Wikipedia, MagicPedia is designed as an online reference, but focused exclusively on the art and craft of magic. It is brand new, so there are only a few articles so far. The more people who register and edit, the more complete and thorough it will be!

Before editing your first article, I suggest taking a look around the site itself. To get an idea of what is possible, start by using the Random Page button a few times.

When you're ready to edit, create a user account (it's free) and log in. Help is just a button press away. Perhaps you need an idea for a topic? MagicPedia even has several Wanted Pages and Wanted Categories. These are pages and categories that are discussed in other MagicPedia pages, but need their own articles to provide more depth.

Naturally, I've been doing my own editing already. My main contributions at this point include the pages on Memory Techniques and Effect Classification.

There are already several features I like about MagicPedia over Wikipedia. First and foremost, you can't edit anonymously at MagicPedia. You must be registered, and MagicPedia uses CAPTCHAs anytime a link to an outside website is included. Security is nice, but what about features? MagicPedia allows the use of both images and video in the entries! As the website develops, I can see these features becoming the highlights of many entries, especially as magic is so visual in nature.

If you'll forgive me, I'm heading back to MagicPedia, and perhaps add an article or two.


MemoryEffects.PDF updated!

Published on Friday, November 02, 2007 in , , , ,

BrainI've just finished updating my list of memory-related resources!

If you're not familiar with my MemoryEffects.PDF file (link downloads in new window), it's a project I first posted back in April, 2005. While it was relatively easy to find routines using certain sleights or certain props, memory-related routines proved to be elusive.

I finally decided to create my own list of memory-related routines as I found them. When I started, the document contained only 10 pages. The latest update brings it up to over 57 pages! In this list, you'll learn where to find legitimate and fake memory demonstrations, magic routines that secretly make use of memory, and other articles related to memory and performances.

Most of the current updates are thanks to routines I discovered in the Ask Alexander archive. One unique aspect of this update is that you'll now be able to find the latest version of MemoryEffects at scribd.com! Thanks to scribd.com, if you prefer not to download PDF files, you can download in Microsoft Word format, plain text or even as an MP3 (Although I don't recommend the MP3 version)!

There's two other advantages to posting the list this way. First, I can have the document itself available right here in the post:

...and, second, I can even give you the code to post it on your blog or website, if you wish:

If you have any additions that aren't in the list, please let me know, and I'll include them in the next update!