8 Things Writers Can Learn from Magicians

8 Things Writers Can Learn from MagiciansA few years back, I spent some time as a magician’s assistant. It’s not as glamorous as you might think, but I learned quite a bit about life and people. Some of the lessons are directly applicable to fiction writing.

1. Hide things in plain sight.

You don’t have sleeves, smoke, or mirrors,  but you have foreshadowing and implication.

2. Always have something going on behind the scenes.

Your props include subtext, miscommunication, buried hatchets, unintended consequences, and plot twists.

3. Direct their attention where you want it.

Use your words wisely. By focusing on a detail you can make it clear that it is important, or use it to conceal a bit of foreshadowing.

4. Coordination is everything.

There has to be a balance with pacing, characterization, plot development, setting description, and so much more. If one thing is off, the illusion dissipates.

5. Believability is in action, not words.

A magician’s audience doesn’t believe him until he shows them. Use active verbs to make the reader’s brain react as if something really happened.

6. Know more than you’re telling.

The bulk of the characters’ backstories and formative scenes need not be mentioned, but you need to know them, so you can hint at them and create the illusion of real lives and a real world.

7. It’s not a one-man show.

Editors, beta readers, proofreaders, and cover designers should all be a part of your team.

8. Always leave the audience wanting more.

They should be attached to your characters, sad about losing the connection, and satisfied with the ending so that they want to read another of your titles.

At the heart of it, a magician and a writer are the same. A magician tells a story with his hands. A writer tells a story with his imagination. Both must entertain the audience.


Want to go deeper? Sign up for my email newsletter.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
All honest ratings are appreciated.
Rating: 5.0/5 (7 votes cast)
8 Things Writers Can Learn from Magicians, 5.0 out of 5 based on 7 ratings
About MJ Bush

Developmental Editor.
Founder of Writingeekery with 10,000 monthly readers.
I help writers like you master the craft.


  1. smithster says:

    No. 4: Oh, coz it’s that easy 😛

    Hating everything I’m writing right now, sorry. It’s making me all bitter and twisted.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • You’re right, #4 is hard. It’s hard to do, and hard to teach. I’m definitely going to be trying to figure out a way to measure and calibrate the balance. It’ll probably take me a while, though.

      It sounds like you’ve reached a plateau. Two pieces of advice: take a “do better” mindset rather than a “do good” mindset, and remember that first drafts always suck. There’s way more, dependent on your situation. An upcoming series will cover plateaus in depth.

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  2. MJ,

    Congratulations! The site likes awesome. I like the minimalist touch. And, your post is awesome. What a clever metaphor to use for writing. All good advice, and outside of your standard advice.

    I enjoy your writing style. You are too the point – no wasting words.

    You’re awesome,


    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  3. My fave is #5. I read bad fiction sometimes where the author sort of says, “I am writing something sad/exciting/scary now, so you a a reader should be feeling sad/scared/excited because I want you to.”
    It’s falls to the author not to TELL me how to feel, but to SHOW me the scenes that will naturally illicit that response from me.
    The magic act is a great metaphor. All the time you spent in fishnet stockings and spangled tutus has paid off!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • “It’s falls to the author not to TELL me how to feel, but to SHOW me the scenes that will naturally illicit that response from me.” That sums it up.

      Thank you. And thankfully, this was a classy act. I wore long pants and a sparkly shirt. :)

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  4. Yes, yes to all of these. Especially to the leave the audience hanging part. It’s a must for every fictional writer.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Comment Policy:
The best comments will be featured. Be helpful or ask a good question. No cussing.

Speak Your Mind