The Art of Illusion

You’ll hear me talk A LOT about how much more powerful it is to elude to something than to tell it straight out. To me, it’s almost as important as “Show, Don’t Tell” and quite honestly it’s probably technically covered in that statement. However, it seems some people just don’t quite get it. So let’s expound.

“The closer you look, the less you’ll see” is the theme of a fun little movie called Now You See Me. Most magicians use this trick. Why? Because it works. Magic is all about the art of illusion, and how do people refer to the best books and movies?

“It was magical.”

So let’s take the magician’s theme and apply it to ourselves, writers. There are several different things that demand a “far away” look when we’re writing. I’ll break them down for you and explain what I mean by “far away look”.

#1 – Character descriptions.

You know you’ve read an over expository character description before. “She had hair like… and eyes like… her teeth were… and her ears… don’t forget her hands… did I mention the exact clothes she was wearing?…” And suddenly we feel trapped inside a box. That’s not AT ALL how we pictured her (whoever she is).

When I write, I tend to give one or two traits of my character and leave the rest up to imagination. I’ve found I like this from other authors, which is why I try to follow their lead in my own writing. For example: my character Rosie Callahan, I only told the reader 2 things about her physical appearance. She’s 5’2″ and she has curly hair. I left the rest up to them.

I think you’ll find that if you stick to the important things about the character, like how they react to others and what kind of speech patterns they use, people will fill in the physical description without much help.

#2 – Back Story

I’m not saying don’t tell people what happened in the past, I’m saying expose it slowly. Have the character say something or do something that ELUDES to their backstory. They had a convict dad?

“I won’t be like him.”

Simple as that. And, yes, I’ve used that one. Another one I’ve used: The girl has a history of people leaving her without a word.

“Just… don’t leave without saying goodbye. Okay?”

Think through what your characters are doing. They deserve the thought it takes to weave their backstory in and out through their actions and words.

TIP: you have a backstory too, but you don’t tell everyone you meet. Everything that happened in the past is your backstory, and it reflects itself in what you do and say now, but not in an expository way. It is what it is, and nothing more. You don’t make a big deal about it. So why do your characters whine on and on about their past?

#3 – Relationships

This REALLY goes along with “Show, Don’t Tell”. The best advice I ever received on this subject was “loving someone means never having to say I love you.” SHOW that your characters love each other, or hate each other, or have known each other for a long time by what they do and say.

This all goes back to illusion. With vague answers and short flashes into the backstory, you’re giving the illusion of a full life behind the character, which in turn brings them to life. Why go into all that exposition when you can achieve the same thing by a simple flick of the wrist?

Remember, the closer you look, the less you’ll see.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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