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Caleb Strange
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In another thread, cogliostro gave us a fascinating insight into his creative process: how he comes up with ideas, and works them into his show.

I thought it might be interesting if we shared our own muse-meeting experiences. How do YOU come up with ideas? I'll post details of my own methods and practices later today, but if anyone wants to start this thread before me; please feel free to do so.

Regards,

Caleb Strange.

Okay, these are some of the ways I come up with ideas. I don't believe there are right and wrong ways to create, so if you do things differently, then it'd be great to hear from you in this thread...

Firstly, I buy and read a lot of books. I try to avoid being too selective, and so the range of material I 'ingest' is broad, and the flavours varied. The pile of recently-read books by my bed, waiting to be carried downstairs to my library include...

Posh stuff:

Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King'
Virginia Wolf's 'To the Lighthouse'
Wodehouse's 'Pelican at Blandings' and 'Blandings Castle and Elsewhere'
'Treasury of Asian Literature'
Attar's 'Conference of the Birds'

Science Fiction:

Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama' and 'Cradle'
'The Book of Philip Jose Farmer'
Ballard's 'The Drought'
Stapledon 'Last and First Men'
C.S. Lewis' S.F. trilogy

Ghost stories:

Faber Book of Black Magic Stories
The Bumper Book of Ghost Stories
Lord Hamilton's Ghost Book

Whacky books:

'Arthur C. Clarke's world of Strange Powers'
Colin Wilson's 'Poltergeist!'
Lyall Watson's 'Supernature'
'Phenomena - a book of wonders'
'World's greatest scandals'

Other:

Nicholas Fisk's 'Flipside'
'The Complete book of Face Painting'
'Reading the decades'
'A dictionary of immunology'
'Food and drink in Britain'
'The earth from the air'
'Tatty Ratty' by Helen Cooper
'Nothing' by Mick Inkpen
And a handful of books about golf.

I find books can directly inspire ideas. For instance, in the Black Magic book, the editor recounts a pupportedly true story about how he found a huge rat attacking his infant child one evening. This is a chilling image, and although I have no idea where it will lead, I will keep this scene in mind, and see what develops. There is clearly a bizarre story there.

Secondly, I keep notes of all my idea-fragments, and occasionally refer to them when inspiration fails. Although this can seem a chore, one good idea lost is one too many. If you don't keep notes, one day you'll wish that you did.

Thirdly, this sounds obvious, but I only read stuff that might interest me. I do not often read specifically to get ideas for magic. For instance, the book about food and drink in Britain intrigued me, so I bought it, and it was, indeed, fascinating. It has not yet lead to any effect ideas, (although there was a great section on food superstitions, and I can also now authentically cater for that Medieval ghost story night), but I'm confident that something tasty will be produced. I'm just letting it simmer at the moment.

Fourthly, I will let all these different ingredients, the books, the overheard conversation, the half-remembered documentary on the Discovery Channel, and so on, bubble away. Eventually, something fresh and new will rise to the surface, and I can pick it out of the pot. Generally, this is only a tidbit, a bite-sized morsel, that is not a whole meal by itself. It might be a phrase or the rough shape of a story, little more than a few words. Yet I find that, often, the whole routine will come quickly, almost at once in a thrilling rush, once this fragment is found.

Fifthly, to encourage the expansion of the little idea into something complete, I try to avoid being critical, and will relax. I let it happen. I know that sounds wishy-washy, but I find that if I'm too bothered about detail or quality at this stage, then I clog up the mental works.

Finally, once I have a rough shape, then I work on the detail of the effect - language, method, psychology, misdirection, rhythm, theatrical impact and so on.

That's what happens ideally, but sometimes, nothing floats to the surface of the pot, and I have to consciously force the process a little. For instance, the routine 'Mrs Jones daughter' was inspired by a JonTown question about alternative realities, and a personal feeling that some of my recent routines at the Café had been rather grand, and I wanted something smaller. I thought about these two things for a bit, and realised I wanted something more intimate.

That seemed to suggest a family theme, but nothing more came. Then I re-read some of Rick Maue's book, and the detail of the burnt photograph stood out. Burning meant fire, which meant a family death through fire, and so on. Once the basic routine had been torturously teased out, I could relax, and let it develop more freely.

Anyway, those are some of the ways I come up with ideas. Sorry, if I've sounded a bit pompous in this post. That was not my intention. As I said in the beginning, I don't think there is a right and wrong way to be creative. If it works for you, that's great. I look forward to your comments, and details of your experiences.

Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
Dark illusionist
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Thanks, Caleb, for those informative insights into your thinking proccess. How is it that you pick and chose which books to read?

As you are inspired by books? I find that I am inspired by music. I always make it a habit to listen to inspiring music, while practicing; or doing my homework.

thank you

Jonathan
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Inspiration is a funny thing. It does not always strike the same way twice. Sometimes I will read a story or see a movie and the story will stick with me so that I want to find an effect to go with it.

Other times, I will see an effect and try to find a story to wrap around it.

Most often, however, I think of a basic theme (say voodoo or werewolves) and try to figure out how the character that I perform in would relate to that subject. Then I begin working on the outline of a story. I find and effect or two that fits the theme, then work it into the story. Then expand the story some more and so on. Eventually, if all works well (often it does not) I will end up with a piece that I think might be worth performing. At that point, I try to get input from performers that I respect. Often this leads to extensive revision.

It can be a long and grueling process, or it can seem to come to me in a flash. I wish I knew a more structured approach to this, but I have not found one... at least not one that works for me.

Can't wait to hear what the rest of you have to say.
Covernton
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I keep sketchbooks. And everything is in there. I'm an art student (animation specifically) so a lot of my time is spent with pen and paper. Whenever I have an idea or an image I put that down in the sketchbook. And sometimes those ideas cater very well to certain effects. This visual way of thinking tends to reflect the way I choose to perform. Actually a good number of my effects start out as unrelated sketches. I'll be drawing some sort of demon or magician or something (you do lots of those with the game company I work with) and I end up thinking "gee, now that's an image I'd like to portray through magic" and I start working out a way to involve that image in my magic.

Caleb: Thanks for posting this interesting topic! I'm curious to learn what strange processes everyone uses!

-Covernton
Caleb Strange
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Jonathan, Dave, Coverton, those are fascinating posts. Inspiring of themselves, I'd say. I've very occasionally used the thematic approach, but perhaps not as often as I might, and something like the story for 'Per ardua ad astra' was inspired loosely by music (I had a haunting picture of a failing space-probe playing Mozart for the last time on an alien world), but I've never started directly from a drawing. Intriguing stuff guys! Keep it coming!

Jonathan, I choose to read a book if I think it might interest me, working on the premise that if it interests me, then it might interest others. As I buy many books second-hand, then I find it easier to justify buying stuff that I might only read once, and think of never again. So, oftentimes, I will take a chance on something. The Food in Britain book, and the Dictionary of Immunology being cases in point. Luckily I'm a fast reader, and my retention is pretty good too.

On the subject of creativity, here's an exercise that some of you might find useful - most of you will do it already. It's the kind of thing that Edward de Bono is famous for, but I've done it naturally for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I would keep myself awake at nights by choosing two seemingly unrelated words, and then attempting to connect them by stages of association. For example, using the smilies Smile and Smile, the first bizarre things that come to mind are...

Imagine someone who could peel frogs; push them out of their skin, as easily as squeezing the flesh out of a banana. Maybe this could be a way of killing all things, or a particularily nasty curse. Or maybe there is a creature that can perform this trick on itself, and assume a new identity as easily as you and I put on a new coat. And so on.

Or imagine an undiscovered Pacific island, where the inhabitants had, through years of selective evolutionary breeding, developed the ability to spring, Kermit-like, up to thirty feet in the air, so as to harvest bananas. This has obvious comic potential. But you could take it into darker areas. Imagine extreme agility being used as a weapon, somehow. Those ugly twitching things you summon up from the Pit, are a bit more limber than you thought. Imagine being in a room where these things stream from out the portal, and cover the walls and ceiling lightning quick. If that doesn't work, then take the thought back, and think of other animal abilities that might improve human beings, or make them scary, or supernatural.

And so on... I consciously use this technique only very occasionally. However, I suspect that we do it all the time sub-consciously. If you've never done it, give it a go. You'll find the only problem is stopping. You could go on all day with the bananas and frogs, if you're not careful. One could write a whole book of stories, that were inspired by this central conceit, and call it, 'Variations on a theme'.

Hey! Now there's an idea...! Smile

Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
Dark illusionist
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I also watch a lot of movies, which provide me with a lot of good ideas.

Caleb: you wrote "Or imagine an undiscovered Pacific island, where the inhabitants had, through years of selective evolutionary breeding; developed the ability to spring, Kermit-like, up to thirty feet in the air!"

This idea reminds me of the movie "Society". It relates to your idea, but it's difficult to talk about this movie without giving anything away. Check it out, if you want to see something very satirical; and very disturbing.
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Caleb Strange
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Jonathan, I've seen "Society" a couple of times. Freaky film!

Yeah, films are a good source too.

Caleb.
-- QCiC --
Dark illusionist
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Oh yeah. I forgot that "Society" was rather popular overseas, before it came to the United States.
Check out my brand new website:

www.ovationmagic.cjb.net

if you like it sign the guest book, if you realy like it then realy sign the guest book. If you hate it then go away.
Clayman
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Hi Caleb and Dark,
Just wondering...when was "Society" released? Is it a fairly old film or recent release?
"A flash of silvery light ..and it was gone."
Dark illusionist
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Clayman...

It's an 80s film. I'll pm you some more information.
Check out my brand new website:

www.ovationmagic.cjb.net

if you like it sign the guest book, if you realy like it then realy sign the guest book. If you hate it then go away.
Clayman
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I'd appreciate that, Dark. Thanks.
"A flash of silvery light ..and it was gone."
Mark Rough
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I draw inspiration from a lot of things- books, music, movies (I managed to sit through Bullet Proof Monk this weekend, and though I wasn't fond of most of it; I can't help but feel there is something there I'll use eventually), and other things I enjoy doing. My wife is a yoga teacher, and I'm in the midst of putting together several effects around Indian mythology and yoga. Ideas are just out there in the air. Breathe them in... inspiration!!!!

Mark
What would Wavy do?
kaytracy
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Gentlemen,
A fine thread this one, and I wanted to share some of my inspirations!

I find myself studying myths and legends of modern and ancient times, the ones that come from the people, those urban ones!
For instance, how many from each area of the country have heard the high school adage about a lady dressed in white, or pink-the prom date gone bad with the car wreck, and on certain nights "She" appears, beside the road, dress dirty and torn, asking for a ride to get help for her boyfriend.. the passing motorist obliges, only to turn his head at the intersection, and she is gone, a bit of torn fabric, or a corsage flower remaining behind in the car.....

This is a fairly common theme about the U.S., and smacks mightily of the "Silky" myths from certain island cultures, where there remains a bit of seaweed and sand....
Some of these by nature are more sinister than others, Changelings, the devil and the old woman, and such, but all can be used for a source of inspiration.

I particularly like them as most of them are familiar to us, from one source or another, and I am better able to play on the gut level reactions to a half known, or half truth!

Anyway, this is one of my methods!

I also like to look at things, in the stores, etc. and try to think of how someone from another world or culture might try to use it if they had no instructions. How would this Artifact be interpreted, and what stories might it hold.

Signs can hold odd meanings too, if you take them literally. There was a billboard advertising for a dental clinic. On it the face of a smiling young girl, maybe 7 or 8, and an elderly man and woman, also smiling (maybe 60-70) with the words... "They are getting what she has.... NEW TEETH" My question was, "How will the little girl eat?"

Clearly-I hope-not the intent of the ad manager! Smile
Kay and Tory
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cogliostro
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There is no one process that I use to come up with ideas - as we have all noted.

The majority of my work is done entertaining people waiting in line to go through a haunted house. Under such circumstances location and set make almost all of my decisions for me. All tricks must be small, easily reset, work well with uncertain angles and lighting, etc. but I still work them into my character. I’m one of the instructors you’ll have if you survive our crash course in fighting the supernatural. (Read haunted house.) Psychic powers are merely tools that will help you survive. Obviously psychic powers are useful if you are trying to determine which person in the room is the vampire/werewolf/possessed/etc so allow me to demonstrate a few of the abilities we’ll be training you in...

Of course we are all working towards something a little grander. To this end I strongly agree with Caleb. You need to read a lot of books, on a lot of different topics. Histories and the supernatural are excellent places to start but do not limit yourself.

In another posting, I described my creative process something as follows:

1) I decide what highlights I want to include. -- "Hey! With a small up close crowd, I should do 'Out of this World.' "
2) I add to that the details of the persona I will use. -- Standard psychic, but due to the spirits summoned or the arcane knowledge taken from the dreaded book or the mystical powers of a relic recently acquired something more then "mere" mentalism could very easily happen!
3) Adjust for setting and crowd. -- "Wait, if I cannot set up in advance/control the lighting/etc that changes everything!"
4) Add history -- "Erzebet Bathory's bloody history would apply perfectly here."
5) Review and revise -- Are my effects as strong as I want them? How is the pacing? How is the story?

Of course the moment of inspiration can come from anything, as has already been pointed out. Let me illustrate with my best example.

I was watching a magic video, were a standard utility move was used to determine the combination to a lock. And I had the thought that if you’ve gone through all that effort, then something pretty special should come out of the box. That brief pondering started everything.

Of course if something special comes out of the box, it cannot really be a normal box. It can’t even be a normal lock. A quick (Read 6 months) perusal of eBay and I became the proud owner of a Chinese combination lock and a Saudi Arabian brass box. Now mere mentalism shouldn’t be providing the combination, I have to be getting five unique characters from somewhere -- so why don’t I ask my dearly departed ancestors to provide the combination. Bang! I have a séance. I use a real ancestor of mine and turn him into two different people. The one I’m trying to contact and the dangerous one. Ergo, we set out with good intentions, but of course something will go wrong, and the setting it already there!

Reviewing what I have, I decide I don’t have enough lead in. Thanks to the ever-useful information I’ve gleaned from horror movies, I know that no haunted house investigation is complete without a psychic. Can I use this? Of course, those idiots have it backwards! Psychics don’t notice ghosts they ATTRACT them! So I clearly need to have a few demonstrations of psychic powers in order to “raise the psychic potential of the room.” This explains why people always use a large group to perform a séance, and why I need their help to open a very personal, and potential dangerous family heirloom. Hmmm...

Now, adjust and fine-tune the effect I’ll be using. As others have noticed, playing cards in a séance can look hokey, so I favor tricks that use tarot cards and ESP cards and effects that interact with most of my group -- this is a group effort after all and they should be involved.

Feeling pretty good about myself here, but *GASP* I cannot get the séance room dark! Don’t Panic. (Good advice from an excellent book.) What effects can I perform that provide the séance feel without requiring darkness? Clearly things need to move by themselves. Noises need to crop up in a dimly candlelit room. These five minutes are the crowning moment of the whole evening, just before I banish my great-great grandfather’s ghost. Confession: this last CRUCIAL part is still coming together. Right now the bones move, the candle goes out, a flash goes off, and a coin falls from the ceiling! Then we ask questions of the ghost, discover it’s the wrong ancestor and banish it in a burst of flames.

Welcome to my nightmare,
- Rob
David de Leon
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First of all, great thread and thanks to everyone for sharing! Let me just add this observation about my own creative process:

I find that what often starts me off is that I notice something. When reading a book, watching a film or walking down the street, something sticks out and draws my attention. This might be because it interest me, scares me, incenses me, amuses me or for any other reason. On most occasions, unfortunately, I pass on to the next thing (or onto nothing), but it is those times when I focus attention, on whatever it was that momentarily grabbed my attention, and think about it that I usually come up with my ideas.

So in order for me to get ideas I have to stop and notice when something grabs me or affects me. So the trick is to notice when I take notice. The problem is not so much how to be creative, but to remember to be creative.

Most of the time I am probably not very creative, but when I need to be, or want to be I try to make myself more receptive and try not to let go of things to quickly.

Needless to say, like most of you, I write down everything I come up with. This is not only to prevent me from loosing ideas, but is essential to make room for the next idea.
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I grab ideas from the books I read and the films I see, also the situations I find myself in. Say I am out with my mates coming back from the pub and it is night we stop and sit down in the park, I think "what would be the freakiest thing that could happen or what effect would fit in right now". This is how I came up with a Werewolf effect I do sometimes.

I was at a train station about 2 in the morning and it was just me and one of my work colleges. He had wanted to have a
'smoke' and I suggested he use the train station to keep himself out of possible trouble.

This was an open air station with little lighting and a full moon in view I decided to take advantage of his altered state... I started talking about the film 'Devils advocate' and how people aren't always what they seem, etc...

Now I am known as a magical person and he started to get really freaked out. I said I used to have dreams as a child about getting chased by wolves and started to describe the dream. I then said, one time I let them catch me, then I woke up in a sweat and found a patch of white wolf like hair on the side of my head (I do have one small white patch just above my ear, always have).

I then said, "Look right there, look closer". Just as his face came close, I quickly turned to face him and barked as loud as I could. This guy spazzed out, I mean he stumbled back just frozen up, nearly fell over, I could see the fear in his eyes, arms failing everywhere.

He grabbed the wall and his chest and was just silent for about 45 seconds. I asked if he was O.K and he started laughing, he said that was one of the biggest rushes he has ever felt. He told everyone about it, people were like "Show me the trick were you can make me spaz!"

These ideas are more for when I am with friends but I do try and use interesting presentatiosn when performing professionally, rather than the usual "watch this it's magic".

One example of this is, I read an article in
'New Scientist' magazine about parallel Dimensions and how there is some scientific proof of these. I use some of this article as a presentation of the linking card trick
'Osmosis' found in book 2 of the Art of Astonishment.
Look behind you...on your left...thats the real world.



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ELS
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Great thoughts here. I find my self watching horror movies in a different way now, the last one being Ghost Ship, it spooked my wife, and yet I had to remind her, it did not show anything really spooky, but played on your mind and great sets.

Ed Smile
Were the border between the natural and the supernatural will be nothing any more but fuzzy. http://edwardshanahan.com
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