Emotional Elements

[Excerpted from Magic For Young Lovers]

What do I mean by emotional elements?

It may be easier to understand by considering the lack of such things in most magic.

Imagine the hobby/art of magic didn’t exist. Then one day I come up to you and say, “Hey, I’ve invented this new thing. It’s called magic. It’s a new artform where you demonstrate the impossible to people. Sounds great, right? Here’s the problem. I think it might be too powerful actually. Can you think of the blandest type of things you could do with my newly invented artform so that it won’t rile up the common people too much?”

The next day you return. “Your highness,” you say. (I didn’t mention but I guess I’m the king or the ruler in this situation.) “I’ve come up with the dullest possible demonstrations of this thing you call ‘magic.’ First, how about this, you take some balls and cover them with cups and the balls move around. Second, you take three rings, unlike any you’ve ever seen, and you make them link and unlink. Finally you take a bag and an egg. You put the egg in the bag, and then the egg is no longer in the bag. But then it is again. Huzzah!”

I would applaud you for doing such a great job at coming up with magic that is so utterly pointless. Magic that has nothing going for it other than just impossibility.

Isn’t that enough though? Isn’t that what magic is: doing the impossible?

For a long time I believed that what set magic apart from all the other arts was its ability to surprise with the impossible. Therefore, what we should put our emphasis on is the nature of that surprise.

But what I’m finding is that the feelings of being surprised or fooled aren’t really lasting emotions. They’re not sticky emotions. They’re fleeting.

So, yes, there should be a surprise, but there should also be an emotional element to the presentation so that it sticks with people as time passes.

So what are emotional elements?

An emotional element is an emotion or an object, location, or concept that is likely to affect someone emotionally.

In this book I highlight five emotional elements: relatability, novelty, time, nature, and humor. These are just a few examples among hundreds of concepts that could be considered “emotional elements.” Other broad concepts like this would be nostalgia, fear, music, family, and romance; each of which are demonstrated in effects in this book.

A presentation that incorporates one of these subjects is going to offer opportunities for the spectator to connect to the effect emotionally.

But there are millions of smaller types of emotional elements as well that can be found in the items we use, the places we perform, and the processes we create through which the magic happens.

A torn and restored card is all impossibility with no other outside emotion. A torn and restored picture of your ex-girlfriend may be an almost identical trick, but it resonates on more frequencies.

And you don’t have to point this out to people. This isn’t a lecture about some emotional concept as demonstrated through a trick.

As I said, this is about seeding a trick with emotional elements and letting the audience determine which ones are going to take root.

Thinking back to the Time Capsule trick, what are the emotional elements? What made that more than just a torn and restored card? Our reunion after many years apart, our walk on the cold winter night, visiting our old sledding hill, the lunchbox and all the items inside, even her childish scrawl on the playing card. All of these elements played into the presentation and gave her a chance to connect to the effect in a different way than she would have without them. Because of that, the trick may come to her mind whenever she finds herself back in our hometown in winter, or when she sees her kids sledding, or if anyone ever mentions a time capsule, or even just because she sees an old lunchbox. She’ll be reminded of that experience via whatever ways she related emotionally to the trick.

This is what emotional elements do. They give your audience other access points to the memory of the effect. Emotional elements don’t take away from the impossibility of an effect, they just give the audience more opportunities to consider that impossibility.

If you were a pie baker and you made really good tasting pies that you just set on the table for someone to eat, they might remember that pie in the future when they were hungry and in the mood for pie. But, if you feed a person that pie at the end of a romantic dinner, or at a picnic, or late on a summer’s night under the stars, or as a precursor to a pie fight, then you’ve added some emotional elements to the eating of the pie. And you’ve added more mental triggers for them to think about the pie and then think, “Damn, that was a good pie.”

“Damn, that was a good pie,” is to pie bakers what, “Damn, that was amazing,” is to magicians. It’s the feeling we want to leave them with and emotional elements give them more reasons to relive the experience and that feeling.