How to Be a Magician in 3 Easy Steps
(The Art of Writing a Good Story)
by Denise Felt 2011
I Want to Be a Magician When I Grow Up
Such astounding magic
Thousands of little words
with just the right
and – presto!
they smile, they sigh . . .
Have you ever been to a magic show? The magician made it look so easy, didn’t he? Sleight of hand, presto-chango, and the impossible became real. That’s the wonder and the fun of magic. It’s the same with writing.
Long before you sit down to write a story, you’re thinking about the tale you want to tell. And I can promise you that the number one thing you’re thinking about is a particular character. You probably can even see his/her face in your mind, almost as if they were a real person. Well, that’s the trick of good writing: making your character come to life on the page. Making them seem like a real person to your readers. Does that sound hard to you?
We all know when a person is being real with us and when they’re being phony. Just like a poorly executed magic trick, we can spot them. When you write about the character that’s in your head, it’s important to make them sound real too. We want the readers to wish they knew them – or even to feel that they do by the end of the story. What makes the difference between a real person and a phony? Well, real people have flaws. They make mistakes. They trust the wrong people. They get into trouble – either because someone’s out to get them or because they’re perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time. (The Diehard
movies made an entire franchise out of that scenario!)
In my story A Little Magic
, the main character makes an assumption about a person based on his own guilt and remorse over what happened with his son. The rest of the story revolves around how he sees the truth and deals with that judgment until he finally fixes things in the end. Allowing your hero or heroine to make mistakes just like a real person will cause them to be much more believable to your readers than if you kept them a pristine cardboard cut-out. People can’t really relate to perfection. Letting your character have one or two flaws will give them the illusion of being human, so that your readers will almost think they can hear them breathe.
From my fingers power flies
as I make blind men see
glimpses of the hopes and dreams
that live inside of me.
Quickly, quickly, past their eyes
the images surge on,
illuminating potent scenes
that linger once they’re shown.
Outside myself, I realize
the words I type aren’t real,
yet still such mighty, magic things
to conjure what I feel.
Once you have your character fleshed out in your head, it’s important to let your mind wonder about them. Curiosity is the writer’s most powerful tool. What would happen if . . . ? By asking yourself that question and any others that occur to you, you’ve given yourself the freedom to explore how your character handles crises. And characters in crisis are what good storytelling is all about.
In The Catalyst
, my main character is captured by aliens and taken to their ship. The plot of that story came about when I asked myself, “What would happen if the aliens managed to capture Straker?” In that story, I had him be rescued before they got him off the planet, and the rest of the story deals with the aftermath of his capture and how everyone thinks he’s handling the fallout. When I wrote Gar Barusch
, on the other hand, I took that question one step further and had them actually get him onto their ship. I wanted to find out how he would deal with such a situation, and by letting my mind envision him there, I was able to easily see what he’d do. And the story flowed from there. When you let your mind take your character to unusual places (even scary ones!), they might surprise you by how they react. And guess what? A story is born.
Show me some feat of legerdemain
skillful enough to show no strain
and I say you have somehow found
the greatest poet above ground,
whose hand writes quicker than the eye
to squeeze out truth until you cry
with overwhelming ecstasy.
It’s hard to find real artistry.
Society is so very cruel.
They see delight – and make a rule,
a box to hide a precious jewel.
And so it is with every age,
until there remain too few to rage
against the trappings of the stage.
People will tell you that writing is hard. And that you can only do a good job if you follow their rules. But people will always tell you what they think you should do. What’s more important is for you to listen to the voice inside you – the one that tells you that you have a story to tell that others want to hear. Creativity is hidden in the heart of every person. Sooner or later, we all have to let it out and discover the treasure inside ourselves. This is the hardest step for the writer: to write what they feel inside. To let it out for the world to see. It takes courage, but that’s the good news. Because that’s all
it takes! Once you realize that the only thing standing between you and your finished story is the courage to write it out, it won’t seem like such a scary thing after all.
Every day, wonderful stories are never written because someone was too afraid to tell us about the magic inside themselves. There could be a million excuses: their boyfriend/girlfriend thinks it’s stupid, they don’t think anyone would read it, their dog ate their first draft. Getting past your own fear of showing your stuff to the world is the only hard part of writing, no matter what else anyone says. But you have the courage to do it. It’s there inside you. Part of the magic of storytelling is the ability to share it. So, don’t let fear rob you of your greatest treasure. The world needs to hear your vision. Share it! Go out on that stage and wow the audience! Abra-cadabra!
You’re a writer.