Adding the Magic to your Story

Is writing your story harder than you thought it would be?

Welcome to a very large club.

Sure it’s hard.  But maybe it’s you. 

Maybe you need to look at your process differently.

Be honest — are you basing your writing, are you staking your dream, on your experience as a reader

Do you really believe that because you’ve been reading books since you were a kid, that because you’ve read everything that Nora Roberts or Robert Heinlein or Tom Clancy or John Irving or Michael Connelly have written, that you can do what they do?  That you can compete at their level? 

That you know what they know, and thus, what you need to know?

Too many do.  Too few realize the seductive, evil fallacy of that belief.

Too few understand the nature of the magic of a great story. 

If that’s you, or if you know someone who comes to writing from that place, consider this.

To readers a great story seems like one of two things: it looks easy… or it looks like magic. 

But to a writer that understands the magic, it’s all physics and mechanics and principles dancing with a demanding muse. Just like the magician, storyteling is about diverting attention, then commanding attention, then paying it off.

It’s about being in complete command of every moment of the show.  And not letting the show run itself.

You can’t hope to create magic by simply attending a magic show.

You can’t understand how it’s done, the mechanics of the illusion, the sleight of hand, unless you are a magician, too. 

Then you see it right away.  Then you can learn from what you see.  While everyone else is simply amazed and entertained.

You need to turn yourself into the literary equivalent of a magician, join the insider’s club and learn the secrets of the trade.

And then, from that point forward, learn from every other magician you see.

You need to master the trade before you can hope to fool an audience into believing and investing in what you’re showing them. 

And then, once mastered, you must create your own illusion as you evolve in your craft. To find your own voice and niche.

Abrakadabra — you’re a writer.

It’s that easy, isn’t it?


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10 Responses to Adding the Magic to your Story

  1. Damn good analogy. So simple yet so eye-opening. I’ve held off on trying a book because I thought I needed to read quite a bit more first out of respect for the craft and as a necessity to not F&!king up. Perhaps I need to get up on stage instead.

  2. Yes to creating one’s own illusion. The pulling a rabbit out of a hat trick has been done to death. 🙂

  3. You had me at physics…

  4. I relate to your message. I was one who put off and put off thinking I did not have the credentials to enter the hallowed ground. When my wife/muse provided the permission and encouragement, out it came…like magic. Nine novellas in six months. And, the study of my idols, Le Carre and Fitzgerald, are refining the craft.

  5. We’re definitely back to the necessity of being a virtuoso — having our Craft down so well we don’t have to think about it while we’re creating it.

    As we learn more and more about the Craft, we become more aware of what the Masters (viruosos) do. Craft is what we do (Six Core Competencies, etc.). Art/creativity is how we do it.

    Yes, pulling a rabbit out of a hat has been overrun. However, any competent magician could be expected to do just that as basic Craft. Beyond competency is the Art — perhaps pulling a hat out of a rabbit?

  6. I read for that moment of ‘commanding attention’ by a writer. In music it’s two notes, sustain and release.

    Thanks for making the complications of story telling easier to understand.

    @Bruce: one writer pulls the rabbit out of a hat. Another pulls the hat out of a rabbit. Who saws the rabbit in half?
    Tough transition.


  7. And what about the rabbit in the basket waiting to have swords run through it?

    (not the most comfortable job in the world … certainly not when the basket is made of fiberglass. Thank evil minions the guy hadn’t graduated to real swords yet)

    Just had to add another magic rabbit comment. 😉

  8. nancy

    It’s been one of those frustrating days when I say, ‘everyone else can do this, why am I having so much trouble?’ This message reached me right in the nick of time. So thanks. With more craft analysis, I hope I will be able to better manage my rabbits.

  9. Mike

    What you said excluding how many books someone can read to the quality of their ability to repeat the magic is a useful thing to remember. Even when you understand the structure, there must still be inspiration.

    I actually had a question to that end, Larry.

    How often do you draw from real life experiences when you write, versus when you’ve read it in a work of fiction?

    I jot down real life experiences myself because you know what they say about reality, fiction, and strangeness.

  10. Steve Aguilu

    Loved the analogy. It reminded about some of the reasons why I write.

    I am physician and like to say that I manipulate people for their own good, scare them into doing the right things for their health, inspire them to be their best self. I think I have the command thing down.

    I am also a performer, a musician, and at one time an amateur magician. I think that may be the answer. It is my dream to guide people to a special moment, a special feeling… manipulate them not only for their own good, but for their own spirit. And when the light of new wonder shines from their eyes…I will know I have succeeded.

    I am still working on the ‘mechanics of the illusion’ but maybe there is hope…

    Thanks for the insight.