I think most magicians know that writing scripts for your magic is the smart thing to do. I also know that few magicians, myself included, actually follow-through on this advice.
Because it’s hard.
Eugene Burger has been pleading the case in favour of scripting for a few decades now. Pete McCabe’s book Scripting Magic sealed the deal with an avalanche of evidence. The benefit is clear, but it doesn’t make it any easier to get started.
Looking at such a big task as writing out an entire script is daunting. I encourage you to take one small forward step today. Right now.
Write your opening line.
One sentence starts off every magic trick. It sets expectations. It defines the premise. It, hopefully, captures the imagination. This one line can be everything you need to kick off an engaging presentation.
One of my favourites from Alex Elmsley;
“I… am a ghost.”
What a curious thing to say! It immediately captures my attention. The rest of the trick is simply explaining what he means by that statement. (His presentation eventually wraps up with “… so you see, I am a ghost!”) The one line puts the entire trick into a new perspective.
Cut The Fat
I’m willing to bet that in some of your presentations, the line that should be your opening line is about three or four lines in. In the words of Del Close (Chicago improv legend) get to “something wonderful right away.” Don’t be afraid to start in the middle and cut out unnecessary exposition.
Starting at the good part captures attention, and you can fill in the details as you go.
“I am a ghost.”
Not “you know, funny thing, the other day I was out shopping for a new suit, and I looked in a mirror and couldn’t see myself wearing this suit… I mean literally! Could not see myself. You know, cuz I’m a ghost.”
Here are a few ideas for opening lines that might lead to something wonderful.
“People used to to think that maybe magicians were in league with the devil. In a moment you will be certain of it.”
“When I was 8 years old, I witnessed something impossible.”
“I got into magic as a condition of my parole.”
“Magicians have died attempting this next trick.”
“Last night I was visited by my spirit unicorn.”
“I used to play the piano. Now my instrument of choice is a pack of cards.”
“There was only one magic trick which fooled Albert Einstein.”
“I have something up my sleeve… but I shouldn’t have told you that.”
Homework: Start with my list, and try brainstorming more interesting things to say. Then, see if you can expand on the opening lines with an idea for a presentation. It could trigger a whole new direction for a trick you are currently performing.
Once you have a great opening line, just make sure that the rest of the presentation delivers on that promise. If your patter starts to wander, get your editing pen and keep it within the premise.
Alex Elmsley’s routine is appropriately titled “A Strange Story”. Written in The Collected Works of Alex Elmsley – Volume 1 or on video The Tahoe Sessions – Volume 3.