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How to Create Magic Tricks (Part One)

Of the many emails I receive from magicians, one question always gets asked again and again:  How do I create magic tricks?  Here’s one from yesterday:

Mr. Grace,

I would like to be a magic creator but I haven’t been able to invent anything yet.   Can you give me some advice on how to do this?  Any help would be great… and I love your tricks.  your stuff is so creative and original.  Thank you.

-Jason P.

The answer to how to create magic tricks is simple, but the process of creating them is long.  Often an idea will hit you in a flash or a dream and you have to seize the opportunity to work it out.  Here is some simple advice to help you create magic tricks and become an original inventor of magic.

What is your goal?

Are you creating magic tricks to sell to other magicians?  Are you creating magic tricks to perform in your own show?  Are you hoping to create a trick that David Blaine will use on his next TV special?  Are you just messing around and don’t intend on doing anything with your ideas?  These are often questions  you will not need to answer right away.  Rather, the answer will present itself as you develop the trick.  The important thing is to just create… and let the rest come later.

Are you am Effect or Method Man?

Some magicians will discover a clever method first and then build backwards to make the trick around the method.  Example: By accident, you discover that mixing two chemicals produces smoke.  You now work backwards to build a trick around the secret method you discovered.

The other approach is to close your eyes and imagine the effect and then work to discover a method to achieve it.  Example: You want to levitate your car.  You have no idea how to do it but you set out to figure out a way.

Both paths seem to work for me and I don’t have a preference.  Any idea that comes to me goes into the journal for future exploration.  I guess that means I’m both an Effect and Method creator.  I can tell you this:  For me, effect is everything!  A brilliant method that produces an underwhelming effect will not last long in my mind.  However, a brilliant effect will keep me working on the idea forever…trying to solve the puzzle with the best and usually easiest method.  And sometimes there is only ONE method, maybe not the most ideal, but because the effect is so strong it is worth the energy.

Observation and Research.

When an idea hits, it’s a good idea to do a quick search on google to see if your idea has been used already.  Back in my early years, before the internets, I had to rely on books, friends, mentors, and the Abbots Magic Catalogue to answer the question of true originality.  In this day, the internet has solved that dilemma.  In just a few minutes you can find out if your idea has already been invented.  So do the research.  Why?

Doing the research will help you save a whole lot of time discovering the things you need to know.  Sometimes another method to a similar trick will be the answer to your problem.  Sometimes an effect already exists but you figure out a more elegant solution, or an easier solution.  Even if your idea is already in print or being sold, that should’t stop you from doing the research.  Like I said, you may find a much better solution to the problem and end up breathing new life into that trick.

A trick is a puzzle of sorts and it needs to be solved.  You are part scientist, part performer, part audience member, and your job is to combine those viewpoints to solve the puzzle.  Once you have done the research, you will have gathered all the intel needed to move forward.

Let’s be clear here:  I’m not suggesting that you should just invent an additional method to a popular trick just to lay claim on it.  Sure, you can use a double lift instead of a force and legally claim the method is different.  But that is cheating.  That approach is for the ego… and the process of creating magic isn’t about stroking the ego.  This process is about creativity, contribution, and potentially discovering something crucial to changing the history of magic.

Where do the ideas come from?

Good question.  Just like a musician who dreams a beautiful melody and wakes to write a symphony in a matter of minutes,  inspiration can come from anywhere.  Mine have come from dreams.  I’ve dreamt of a crazy effect and written it down on my pad of paper by my bedside… only to wake up hours later and not remember even doing it.  Inspiration comes from engaging the world and keeping your magic goggles on.  What are magic goggles?  It is the magicians mindset in which you view the world.   You are always looking at things from the point of view of a magician… or rather you should be doing that.  As you engage the world, get your coffee at Starbucks, shop at Kroger, and watch a movie… you should always have your magic goggles on and be asking questions… waiting for the inspiration to strike.  I believe that if you put that intention into the universe, you will receive the inspiration.  I know this sounds like pseudoscience BS… but it does work.  Just asking the universe to send you ideas is a great affirmation and seems to provide great results for me.  At the very least it puts you in the mindset to be ready when the inspiration strikes.

Try this technique:  Sit in your room and look around… then close your eyes and picture the same room.  Open your eyes and look at an object.  Ask yourself what is this thing, what is it’s purpose, what does it do, what doesn’t it do, what else can I do with it.  Close your eyes and repeat.

Or the this technique at any store:  Pick up every item in Walmart and ask those questions.  Examine what it does and what is could do.   Move down the isle and examine everything … keep asking those questions, thinking, examining, and questioning.  You will be surprised how many ideas you will get from this tactile method of creating.

I’ll give you an example from my own life.  About 10 years ago, I found an object at a store in the mall.  This small electronic device would broadcast your MP3 player over the radio station in your car.  Basically you just plug your player into the device and then tune your radio to 87.5 and the music would play.  Since this was a new technology at the time, not many folks would be aware of the device.  Because I had my magic goggles on, I knew that I had stumbled upon a method without even knowing what the trick was going to be.  It was a simple process of working backwards to build the effect around the method.  The effect turned out to be one that I wrote in a set of lecture notes in 2003…I called it “DeeJay” and the effect looked like this:

Driving down the road with a friend, you announce that you can force your thoughts into a radio station disk jockey from miles away.  Ask your friend to name his favorite Beatles song… remind him that the odds of that particular song playing on the radio at that moment were astronomical.  Tune the dial to 87.5 and wallah… a true moment of magic…. the song he named is playing on the radio.

(Mp3 player has every Beatles album… you can guess the rest.)

It turns out that there are way better tricks to do with this device… and one day soon I want to write up the routine that is killer and takes this device to the max.  For now, this idea is yours to use and explore.

Part two is coming soon and I am going to blow your mind with some tips that will turn your creativity on… like real magic.  Stay tuned…