Writers as Magicians Part 2: Writing is a Performance


January 28, 2014 by Kira Lyn Blue

In my last post I listed Five Reasons Why Writers are Magicians, but today let’s go a step further and think about what writers can learn from magicians.

MJ Bush at Writing Geekery has a great article I found called 8 Things Writers Can Learn from Magicians that focuses on writing as a performance similar to what magicians do. It’s all about creating and maintaining an illusion.

illusionThink about it, a fiction novel asks you to suspend disbelief whether we’re talking about magical abilities, fantastical creatures, or even just characters as people who don’t really exist. As Bush says, “If one thing is off, the illusion dissipates.”

Writing is a Performance

That one thing can almost anything from the reader not buying into a decision a character makes, inconsistent rules for magic, plot holes, grammar, spelling, or formatting issues, or even something as simple as a repetitive phrase. They all take the reader out of the story and remind them that it’s all an illusion and that ruins the magic.

I think it’s interesting and educational to think of a novel as a performance rather than a product for many reasons.

1. It amplifies the importance of the readers’ responses to the novel.

What I mean by this is that in every scene you’re thinking about the emotional and intellectual responses every scene evokes for the reader and maximizing impact. Now, that’s complicated because, unlike stage actors, we don’t have immediate feedback from our audience to see their responses to a given scene. However, we can use the performance mentality to improve our editing by thinking more carefully about the impact of every word on the page. That and take advantage of beta readers and critique partners.

2. It reminds us to play to our audience.

This is a piggy-back on point 1. Writing can be a very personal endeavor where you’re telling a story that you, as the author, need to tell. As such, it can be easy to slip into thinking we just have to write it and those that will appreciate what we have to say will find it and adore us. To a certain degree I believe this is true, so long as we’re not using it as an excuse not to improve our craft and make every scene the best it can be.

But more importantly we have to think about who our target audience is and what we want them to experience with our story. Key phrase: target audience. We can’t be everything to all readers and some will just not like our genre, our characters, our writing style, or the themes we choose to explore.

We can’t hope to impress those people with our performance any more than we might expect a hipster to appreciate mainstream music, an action movie fanatic to sit through an operatic tragedy, or George R. R. Martin not to kill off the character you had just decided was your favorite after the last one he killed.

So we have to write for the people who are our audience and consider their opinions first and foremost. 

3. It’s a reminder that a book is NOT like other products on the market.

When you think about most consumer goods, there are varying levels of quality and price points. The consumer will balance what they can afford or are willing to spend against the quality and features of the product to make a decision on what to buy.

“This sheet set is only $20, but it’s 200 thread count so will feel like sleeping on sandpaper. Oooh! These 1200 TC Egyptian cotton sheets are so soft and luxurious! I want these! Wait, what? $350??? Ummmm… oh hey look at the 500 TC sateen sheets for $80. Sold!”

How often do you think readers hit up Amazon or Smashwords looking for a book thinking “Hmmm, I don’t want to pay $8.99 for a book, so maybe I’ll go for a $2.99 book and be happy with an okay book with some amateur writing and editing or an only okay plot since it’s cheaper.”

A reader might be more likely to take a chance on an author they’ve never read before if the price is lower, but they still expect to be entertained, drawn in, absorbed, wowed, and given a great performance.

Self-Publishing is a Stage

This is basically my thoughts on the discussions happening at Chuck Wendig’s blog on his recent posts: Self-Publishing is Not the Minor Leagues and Follow-Up On Self-Publishing Readers Are Not Good Gatekeepers.

I think it’s too easy to dismiss such discussions as being elitist in nature. Sure, elitism pops up in any art form; painting, photography, music, film, and yes novels. There will always be those who hold certain artists as the pinnacle and everyone else commercial, talentless hacks and look down on them.

The same way some people will always consider fantasy to be ridiculous escapism or romance novels to be nothing more than porn for bored housewives. If you’re writing fantasy or romance, those people are not your audience. See Point 2.

Elitism is not the issue here. I think what Chuck is trying to say, and what I as a reader would like to tell writers is to:

Give Us Your Best Performance!

Get up on that stage, strut your stuff, woo and wow and be a showman for your audience.



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