The Magic of the Plot Twist

MagicAs a boy, I was fascinated by magic.  I would buy novelty magic tricks whenever I had the opportunity and perform them for captive groups of friends and relatives.  As an adult, I found myself in situations where I was teaching lessons or making presentations.  Once again, I turned to magic as a way to grab the audience’s attention at the beginning and a way to focus on the concept being presented.  On more than one occasion, I visited magic shops and bought tricks that I could use to make a specific point.

Much of magic relies on misdirection.  The magician creates a distraction that pulls the audience’s attention away from the real action and prevents them from seeing how the trick is performed.  One great example is the wrist watch steal.  The magician steps out into the audience and says he needs someone to help him with a trick.  He grabs an unsuspecting individual and drags him onto the stage.  The magician then performs some sleight of hand involving the individual.  Before sending the reluctant volunteer back to his seat, the magician tells him that he has a gift for him.  To the volunteer’s surprise, he produces a watch that he surreptitiously removed from the individual’s wrist earlier.

This trick relies on the audience member being so distracted and nervous about being dragged on stage, that he never notices that while the magician is grasping his wrist, he is removing the watch.  The other members of the audience are so distracted by relief that they weren’t selected and amusement at the reaction of the individual that they don’t see the well-practiced move.  No one realizes that the trick is happening in the audience, they expect magic to happen on the stage – misdirection.

Another fascination that I’ve had as an adult is with books or movies that have a plot twist.  I love to have everything that I anticipated turned upside down at the end of a story.  All three of my novels contain plot twists.  Ironically, it wasn’t until recently that I became conscious of the fact that authors use the same concept, misdirection, to make the plot twist work (guess I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed).   The author provides all of the information that the reader needs to see the plot line clearly but does it in a way that makes the important seem trivial.  Then the author provides lots of distractors and makes them appear to be important.  This leads readers in the direction the author wants them to go.  A great example of this is  In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.  She takes an important detail and makes it appear to be a mere quirk of the main character.  She gets the reader caught up in other distractions, and then hands them the wristwatch. The plot twist — In essence, it is the literary form of magic.

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