The Unknown Personal

I want you to think of a random number between 1 and 1000.

I want you to think of a random time of day.

I want you to think of a random word... now think of a random letter within that word. Now randomly go up or down to the next letter in the alphabet. 

For the last couple months I've been deeply immersed in putting together the opening essay in book #2, and that essay is about the ways at our disposal to inject some emotional resonance into a trick. The rationale behind presenting magic in this way isn't to make you look better or to make magic somehow more important. It's not like, "Everyone thinks magic is just light entertainment or something for kids. I'll show them. They'll certainly know magic is something important when I do a trick with the initials of their favorite dead relative!

That's not the idea. The idea is that if you're going to ask them for 5, 10, 15 minutes or more of their time, it would be nice if the experience could be more than just a momentary diversion. I'm not against momentary diversions, and I think magic can be great in that context. But if the experience contains an emotional hook, then whatever that hook is will also trigger their memory of the effect in the future. So they can relive that experience multiple times, and hopefully take some level of enjoyment from it each time they do.

This isn't anything new or controversial that I'm saying here. I think most magicians would probably agree that if a spectator can connect emotionally to a trick it's likely to stick with them longer. That almost goes without saying. While I think most magicians agree with that in concept, I think they may feel they lack ways to add an emotional element that are simple, practical, and don't feel corny or manipulative. And they'd rather entertain with a "meaningless" card or coin trick than swing and miss with something potentially more affecting. So the purpose of the essay that opens the forthcoming book is to collect some of the techniques that I've found to work in that regard.

One of the ideas I've been thinking about recently is cutting down on the use of the word "random" unless the theme of what I'm doing is actually about true randomness (which it rarely is). 

I used to gravitate to "random" words/numbers/drawings. And the reason for that was—because I'm generally not performing for complete strangers—predicting or divining something personal can seem less impressive. If I tell you what your lucky number or favorite food is, you might think, "Wow!... wait... did he ask someone? Or did I mention that before? Or did he find that out from something I posted online?" When it's personal information the reaction can go from "How could he have known that!" To, literally, how could you have acquired that information.

To avoid that problem I have stuck to "random" elements, because I wanted to emphasize how impossible what was about to happen was. Unfortunately, you're also emphasizing how disconnected what you're doing is to them as a human. The experience becomes less personal because they just become a random number or word generator.

So now, when it comes to these sorts of things, I try to stick to predicting or divining things that fall into the category of: unknown personal. That is, information that is personal or unique to the spectator that could not be researched or discovered beforehand.


Let's say I have a word prediction.

Random: "I want you to think of a random word. Something I could never just guess." 

Pros: Impressive.

Cons: No relevance to the spectator.

Personal: "I want you to think of the first name of your favorite relative when you were growing up." 

Pros: The effect is more personal.

- Potentially less impressive.
- They may come up with their own idea in regards to how you got the information.
- Unless you build out your presentation some, it may feel like you're just asking for a piece of personal information to make "just a trick" seem relevant in some way. It's almost like a salesman asking you your kid's name and then using it in the next sentence. "Don't you think little Johnny would want his dad driving the safest car on the road?" It can seem manipulative. 

Unknown Personal: "Did you have a favorite book when you were younger? Like maybe between the ages of 10-15? Something you read over and over? Or something that made an impression on you? I want you to imagine standing in front of a bookshelf and reaching for this book. You open it and flip to a certain section that has a scene or a passage you remember well. Imagine reading that passage and think of a word that stands out, it may be something that's key to that section or whatever. It just stands out in some way. Concentrate on that word.

- It's completely personal to them.
- There's no way you could have "found out" this information beforehand.
- When they think of this book in the future they'll be reminded of this trick and will get to re-live it in their memory.

Cons: Finding something both "unknown" and "personal" takes a little more thought than just asking for a random word or their favorite pet's name.

But really, that's the only "con" I can think of. And once you get in the habit of identifying "unknown personals" it's pretty easy. If it's not completely clear now, it will be in future posts as there are many more examples to come.