“I’ve seen this one!”
We’ve all heard this frustrating phrase when we pull out a deck of cards. And in part, it’s because many tricks are quite predictable.
When they pick a card, you’ll usually find it.
When one coin magically travels across, the rest will usually follow.
Traditionally, magicians have responded to this challenge in two ways:
1. Ignore the issue (“It’s about suspense, not surprise”).
2. Add a surprising, yet illogical, ending (the fruit finale to Cups and Balls).
While both can work, it’d be nice to find a third way – a middle-ground that still provides a logical ending while making the journey a bit twistier.
Enter The Micro-Reversal
The answer comes from screenwriting, and the micro-reversal. Or, as I like to call it in magic, the kink. (I almost called this post ‘Get Kinky’, but I’m better than that. Just.)
Quick caveat: while I love good screenwriting, I’m no expert, so forgive me if my understanding’s not textbook.
A micro-reversal is a small twist-and-twist-back in a scene. Like a small diversion on a journey, or a little kink in a chain (hence my choice of term). While it doesn’t substantially change the plot, it does perk up people’s attention (like a shot of espresso).
A Few Common Examples From Movies
- A character agrees to meet someone special a train station at a set time. They arrive and… the person isn’t there. Then a few moments later, the person arrives out of breath, apologising for running late.
- A character’s waiting for the result of a pregnancy scan. The doctor says, “I’m afraid you’re not going to have a baby… you’re going to have two.”
- A character is running away from a killer/robot/killer robot. They get in their car, turn the key and… it doesn’t start. They frantically try again, and again, until it finally starts (just in time, naturally).
In each case, the end result is the same. They meet, they’re pregnant, they escape. But the kink, or twist-and-twist-back, spices up the journey.
So, how do we apply this to magic?
Well, it depends on the trick, but here’s a simple process that I’ve been playing with:
1. Take a trick with a clear ending (e.g. card to wallet)
2. List the usual points in the routine (E.g. card chosen, signed, returned, vanished/destroyed (optional), appears in wallet)
3. Think about what people expect at each stage, and then come up with ways that you can confound those expectations with a kink – either right before the finale, or earlier.
So, why not take an existing routine of yours, or one that you’ve been resisting because it’s too predictable, and get twisting.
Next Friday, I’ll continue this mini-series by sharing some examples of magic routines that already have kinks, and how you can apply the principles used in them to other tricks.
For more on micro-reversals and making scenes ‘turn’, there’s a good intro article on Script Reader Pro’s blog here.