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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The spooky, the mysterious...the bizarre! » » ”A madman’s journal” -- Need help with routine (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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David de Leon
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I have an idea for a plot, but would like some help with the magic. I have a suggestion for what the magic could be, but would like to brainstorm about other possibilities. I’ll also need help with how to make it happen. To be truthful there is also a bit of the plot that’s unfinished too. Not much in place, but I think this will still interest you!

My idea is based on two things:

First is my (I think shared) fascination with those well thumbed, indecipherable and mysterious journals that are so often kept by serial killers and other madmen on film (e.g. the man in Cronenberg’s Spider, or the killer in Seven, to just name two). I simply like the look of these and think they have an attraction in themselves: what do they contain (we usually don’t get to know this in the films) and what could these mad and dangerous (and sometimes also brilliant and original) people be thinking?

The second thing is basically a device borrowed from the writer Borges (flavoured with a slight social agenda on my part). It is the punch line, but not the magical effect, of the story. It will make more sense in the context of the routine. Here is a rough outline of what that routine might be like:

You have agreed to meet your friend at a bar for a chat and some refreshments. You arrive a little late and apologise. You tell your friend that you missed your bus and had to wait for the next one. What happened was that you were waiting for a bus and were watching an old man across the street. He was clearly down and out and sat hunched, leaning against a wall. He appeared to be absorbed, writing in a small book. These people always get you wondering about their histories, how their lives end up this way. Just as your bus arrived you glimpsed the man across the street getting up to go and what looked like the book he’d been writing in dropping from his pocket. You let the bus pass by and ran across the street to pick up the book and take it to the man, but he was suddenly gone.

OK, so that’s the set up, next you bring out a small grubby looking journal and flick through its worn pages. They are all covered in minute handwriting and what indecipherable drawings. You tell your friend that you read some on the bus and stop on a page and read aloud. The text is small and scrawled so you read haltingly, holding the book close to your face..

The text that you read seems to be the middle of an account, written in a quirky and awkward style, of what brought the man out onto the street. I think this should be something sad (but a bit opaque), like the death of his wife and child.

Now for the magic (or one possible avenue for the magic). This is connected to the plot and I don’t know how to make this transition convincing. The idea is this, that the journal suddenly turns into an almost pristine version of itself: what it would have looked like when it was new. You flick through, showing page upon blank page and stop near the beginning were there is a shopping list and note about an appointment. The appointment is for the present day and at the restaurant where you are now sitting with your friend.

The idea is, but I don’t know how to sell this, that the man you observed was you, but in the future, and that the journal tells the story of your future (but also about how an ordinary well adjusted person, like yourself and your present company, might be driven to the bottom of society).

All comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
Ramsay
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You have a good idea here. I like it.

A few things come to mind as for the method, possible something along the lines of the old coloring book method....you know what i mean!

How about the appointment being to retrieve his book from you at the bar etc? maybe even with a photo of you picking up the book?

Well anyway, you've got me thinking...

Luke Jermay.
Caleb Strange
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David,

I really liked that story - great idea for an effect. Just to clarify, do you want the circumstances that led to this man/you being on the street to be avoidable?

If so, maybe you could dash off to put this 'whatever' right, at the end of the routine, leaving your puzzled friends still there in the bar/restaurant? For instance, maybe you've just had a blazing row with your wife; the journal tells you that she is about to drive off to stay with friends. Unfortunately, she will still be mad with you when she travels, and so she won't see that large truck at the crossroads, looming down on her - maybe that's how your wife and child die in the journal? So you dash off ('Please God, there still is time!' you cry) leaving the grubby book behind you. Your friends look after the journal, and enjoy, as best they can, the rest of the evening. But then, guess what? Just as your friends are getting ready to leave (still wondering if everything has turned out alright for you), one of them notices the journal. And it is now, once again, unblemished, with its spidery-hand story unwritten, and its pages thrillingly bare...

However, if the man's fate is unavoidable, then perhaps there could be one of those mind-frying temporal loops involved? Maybe the very thing that led to you becoming down and out, was finding this **** journal, with its grubby account of your inevitable slide into misery...

Warm regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
David de Leon
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What a joy to log back on and find comments from both Luke and Caleb! And thought provoking comments at that (I had actually hoped to get some ”real” work done today).

First a note on the method. Luke is obviously right that the mechanics of the old colouring book could be used for this. However, and if possible, I would like something much more visual for the transformation; this is after all the only supernatural bit of the routine and is, I think, needed to sell the rest, which is ”just” story. Maybe there is a colour change in card magic (of which I don’t know enough) that could be adapted?

I also like the way you both take the basic plot further: tying the reason for the appointment at the bar into the story, and even having me run off to change my fate! The thought of leaving a group of friends with the journal just makes me smile. You can imagine the discussion when you’re gone! Also, if I did leave them, then having some further magic happen in my absence is really really nice (especially as I have been thinking lately about a style of magic where miracles, or mysterious occurrences, happen around the ”performer,” but without their necessarily being a ”performance” as such).

I don’t know if making this into a ”mind-frying temporal loop” would overload the routine, but it might be nice if it was possible to leave the party discussing just this aspect. I just love this idea of entertaining in your absence!

Aaaah, so much to think about. Thank you very much!
Ramsay
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Possibly a combination of a coulour chnge like the Erdnase/Houdini card change for the "transformation" of the books cover then use the colouring book to change the pages. That way you would have a visualchange that would point to the transformation of the pages in turn making them a more visual change despite nothing actually being seen. If you see what I mean.

I as always love Calebs thinking...its a good idea that's been started here hopefully we can make something from it.

Luke Jermay.

PS: Look out for Calebs new book that I will soon publish, in my humble opinon its th best thing I've read in the last 10 years! It really is that good...
Caleb Strange
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David, sorry to hear that we're keeping you from 'real' work!

Anyway... Smile I think the idea of miracles happening around a performer, sometimes in his or her absence, is very strong. Like you, I'm a big fan of routines where spectators become participants - where the magic spills out beyond the show, and people find themselves, briefly, in your weird world. One idea that springs to mind (for the suggestion I outlined above) would be to play an announcement on the bar's radio/TV. This news flash reports that, 'A lorry has turned over on a local bridge - fortunately, NO other vehicles were involved, and no-one was hurt.' This, of course, would have been the location of your wife's accident. So maybe everything is alright after all, think your friends. They're still digesting this information, when one of them notices that the book has been restored.

This is involved, I know, but it would take the 'heat' off the book business, and provide a you with bit of collaborative detail for your effect. I can think of several ways of arranging such an announcement, the easiest, but most ethically challenging of which would be to wait for a suitable (i.e. non-injurous but very spectacular) accident, then quickly work its details into your journal and routine.

Luke, ah shucks!

Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
restlessplots
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The idea of a visiable change is a nice one, if you do not mind doing some work, you will need to run down and pick up a journal form Barns and noble, mine is similer to this one:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksea......p;itm=25

but it is old looking and brownish, the key is to have a journel with a removeable cover, that why you can replace it has needed.

I think it goes without saying, everyone here knows how to make the coloring book, so I will leave that alone and let that be.

However, check this thread:

http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......4&10

Which given enough thought, one should be able to show the book, one way, that then watch as blood writting appears on a blank page. It will take some work, a glue stick, and a hand held pocket warmer, the dispoable kind, glue it between two pages (it is possible to make them thiner, if take the hand warmer apart and put the chemcials in a smaller bag, I will leave that to you).

Another method would be to use a battery set up in the spin of a book, wires and glue. The set up would be like they do in bathrooms to keep stem off the mirrors.

A self writting book, then the color book method to make different things apppear, and disappear, I like it.

Rest

As I am thinking about this, Sir T is doing some really great work on a box, that show his head and then slowly and visibly morhps into a skull of his likeness. Not sure how far you want to take this, but if you find the journel a top a carboard box.......(Ask Sir T for the directions), and you had the box on stage with you, then people could watch the transformation. Not realy sure how that will play, but something to think about.

Rest
David de Leon
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Luke, using a colour change for the cover and then using the magic-colouring-book concept for the pages is good, and definitely a solution that I can live with! (Now I just have to find and learn a suitable colour change that will work for this bit of business). As you say, the colour change indicates the time of transformation for both cover and pages. Also thanks to Restlessplots for the tips on making a good looking journal!

Caleb! Reading the idea of working in an announcement over the TV (there are plenty of bars where I live that have TVs on all the time) sent shivers down my spine (which is quite remarkable considering that I’m sitting in a stuffy attic in the middle of summer!). A stunt like this would be something to remember!

However, as much as I love this kind of thing (as you well know), and as much as I love dreaming up miracles, I don’t feel ready for something on this scale yet. I am just a beginner and an amateur and I would like to start with something that I can do for friends as I get more proficient as a performer.

I like the set up: coming in late and telling the story. I also like the visual change of the book. The punch is what’s still unclear. Working in writing that appears by itself, as suggested by Restlessplots, is strong, but I don’t know what to do with it yet! Keep thinking.

Perhaps the routine could go something like this. Having changed the book, I flick through it showing the clean and blank pages. I stop on a page that has writing on it. ”Hang on” on say and start to read, becoming very silent and still. I then ask my friends to excuse me as I have to make a phone call to my wife. I walk out leaving the (switched-in ungimmicked) book on the table. My friends will pick this up whilst I’m gone to see what I read.

Reading my journal I need them to realise that:

a) the book is mine (it just has my name in it and perhaps a note about the present appointment),

b) the old man I saw is/was the future me (the grubby book should very clearly be an older copy of the clean book: same basic colour, size, label, torn corner, coffee stain -- that sort of thing.). Perhaps my initial description of the man’s appearance should help them realise it could be an older version of me.

[Really nice would be if the transformation of the book was a gradual reversal, making you think of time going backwards.]

c) I have found something out that allows me to stop this undesirable future from becoming mine. A note in the book perhaps that I should remind my wife to do something, something that leads you to think about the circumstances of her death. Something like: ”Remind Charlotte to take the car over to my dad tonight and have him look over the back wheel.” The thing read from the grubby book about the death of his/my wife and child should include something about flames and rolling tires etc.

And talking about burning cars, the thread Restlessplots alerted us to has a method that will make writing appear that looks burnt.

Now, I don’t know how this thing would play. I imagine my friends would be entertained and that they would see it as a play with a puzzle for them to solve. I’m sure they would enjoy this, but it is not as strong as it could be.

Thanks again everyone !!!
restlessplots
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You turn to a blank page......todays date appears and an entry:

Today met my friend Danny at the pub, a very tragic day! My wife was involved in an auto accident and was rushed to the hospital.

Something along those lines......


Rest
David de Leon
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Restlessplots, you could also have it the other way round: writing that disappears. For example, I leave and let my friends study the journal. They realise that I am out to prevent my wife and child from getting into an accident. When I come back and we look at the journal again, one of the entries visibly fades from view.

However, if there is to be writing appearing or disappearing this means structuring the routine differently. The original premise (but that is just one version, of course) is that the journal changes from an old journal, from the future, into a new and barely used journal, from the present.

One way to get into having text appearing or disappearing is if the journal changes [i]twice.[/i] That is, if the journal moves back from the future in two stages:

First stage. The grubby journal changes into a new looking journal. I realise the stakes and leave to prevent the accident form happening.

Second stage. I come back, tell my friends everything is going to be OK. I pick up the journal and we all see the key journal entry (e.g. a sentence about my loss) fading from view. When the journal is examined again it is totally blank and a large price tag is stuck on the back.
Caleb Strange
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David,

You seem to have got most of the plot mapped out, but, reading between the lines, I'd guess that you really want to go for a visible transformation - maybe one that is gradual. But how to do this?

Perhaps if we ignore the 'how to', for now, and imagine how this would look. What is involved here? What would we see/hear/feel/smell? What is the minimum you would need to do to express this undoing?

I suspect that if you could find theatrical devices to represent various parts of time-reversal (e.g. the sound of the pages unwrinkling, rather than the sight of them straightening), then you could simplify the visual element. How do things undo? It's not something we're generally familiar with, and it's an intriguing theatrical problem.

Gosh! It's way too HOT here in Manchester, today, for me to be thinking about such things, so I'll get back to you (if I haven't melted).

Much too warm regards,

Caleb Strange.

P.S. David, you were right. Manchester United DIDN'T win the Champions League last season. I was as suprised as anybody; so I went back to my astrological charts, and found that I forgot to carry the 1. Duh! You will be no doubt delighted to hear that it is THIS season that United win it. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.
-- QCiC --
David de Leon
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Caleb, you are right that the actual transformation of the book is the key thing for me. Your suggestion to also think about the sound and smell, and not just the visual aspect, is happily acknowledged. Thanks for making that point! I have been thinking mostly about the plot, but it would be a good idea to imagine what the transformation should look and sound like. I have been thinking about this element as part of the story, but obviously it should be astonishing in itself!

The other thing I want to achieve is the realisation in the spectators that the down and out man is me, or a possible future me. This is more important, I think, than the theme of intervening and changing my fate (though that is a nice plot too).

P.S. As for Manchester United not winning the Champions League. My condolences! Just look at it as a postponement of victory.
Seance
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David,

This is a spledid idea! Regarding the change in appearance of the journal, may I suggest a simple change switch? Working in conjunction with the waitress or bartender beforehand, have the bartender or waitress carry a tray. He or she says I've your drink or food. Close the journal, have the person put the tray on top. When the tray is removed, the new journal is ready. I would believe that by using misdirection, your friend would not notice until you were ready to show him or her the change.

This is a pretty rough idea, perhaps it could be refined. The story about changing fate (or not) is an interesting one. If you can forgive a Star Trek fan (original series), the story, The City on the Edge of Forever remains one of my favorites and deals with what would happen if history (or fate) was changed?

Caleb's wonderful story, And I Have Done a Great and Terrible Thing, also deals with this theme. Search in the archives for this.

I think this is one of the most enduring questions that has existed, and it is fun to wax philosophical about.

Dave
Caleb Strange
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David,

This following is more of a plot for a story or short film. But playing with the idea of the two selves...

David and the well-dressed man.

You are going to work on campus, when you see an older, well-dressed man drop a DVD. There is something oddly familiar about this man, a recognised angle in his bones; and this feeling grows as you chase after him to return (unsuccessfully) his DVD. 'Never mind,' you think, 'perhaps there are some contact details on the DVD itself.' So you go to your office, and slot it into the computer there.

Unfortunately, the DVD is encrypted, and you're no tech-head; but before you give up on it, what the heck, you try your own password, and, to your great surprise, it opens up for you, and invites you inside.

But its details are chilling. In grim fascination, you read its awful catalogue of murders and assasinations; each neatly ledgered in a meticulous database of killing. More strangely, you notice that every one of these brutal crimes seems to have been committed at various times in the FUTURE.

You are still puzzling over this, when there is a knock at the door. The well-dressed man enters, asking if you've looked yet at his DVD. He's caught you in the act, and you are rather embarrassed; you mumble an apology, but he ignores it.
'You saw its contents?' he asks. You nod.
'Did you realise that all these terrible things were, or WILL BE, perpetrated by one man - a government assassin?'
'My gosh!' you say. 'All by ONE man?'
The well-dressed man nods, and in his flint-grey eyes, tears form, like sweat on the trigger of a gun. Slowly, he recomposes himself, and then with deft, practised movements he puts on a pair of black leather gloves. You hear the leather creak, as he stretches his fingers.
'Still you don't understand?' he says, removing the gun. You find yourself thinking, 'That bulge near the muzzle - that must be some kind of silencer.'
'I'm YOU,' says the well-dressed man, 'twenty years on. And what torture your soul-less life will be! I think it's best for both of us, if we end this horror before it ever begins.'
You look at the photograph of your wife and children on your desk, and close your eyes. You are wondering if you will feel the bullet nudging into your brain.

Suddenly, the office door swings open, and Stuart, your Department Head, walks in, and says, 'David, I..'
Without warning, there is the a neat crump, and the tang of something hot and cloying on your face. You flinch, but (though you can barely comprehend it) it is STUART who has fallen to the floor. There is a thickening gristle slopping redly down your door.

Before you can speak, the well-dressed man bends over Stuart's body and spits 'Recruit me NOW, you S.O.B.!'

Then he turns on his hand-stitched heels, and is gone.


Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
David de Leon
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Man Caleb, that was fun! Brightened up my day, what a treat! The idea of a future self coming back in time to kill himself in order to prevent things he hasn’t done yet from happening, is a very nice device!

I also noticed how engaging the story was for me as it was about ”me,” used my name, and was written in second person perspective. Goes to show how effective it can be to personally engage your spectators in your magic. Incidentally, have you read Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller? This used to be one of my favourite books and is written in second person. Very cool.
Jonathan Townsend
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Diary of

Pages packed with text and occasional diagrams.

Perhaps a diagram changes?

Perhaps some text disappears or appears?

What makes these books scary is their dense content that seems without context or intent.

What might make such a book interesting for performing is having some text and diagrams BECOME relevant to the current context. Open to a random page and find text describing the food on the table and a diagram of a note hidden under someone's plate.

Getting the exact nature of the book/author is critical to this bit. Is it destiny watching as the journal of reality gets written in his book (now lost and in your hands?) or perhaps a scheming madamn who's left notes to himself about what he feels compelled to notice/do/avoid.

Just a few thoughts
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Sean Lough
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Love what I've been reading here -- really great ideas all around.

Got me thinking as well -- i carry a Moleskin notebook
http://www.moleskine.co.uk/

the version of the notebook I have is just a little larger than my palm. there is also an elastic built in. It got me to thinking that I could move one end of it to the front and reglue it, making it look as if the pages are locked in, but in reality, I could move them in and out on one end, or replace them with different pages.

In addition to a small folder in the back (almost hidden from view) there is an 'If found" page in the front. Perhaps you could offer as a reward, "My Life" thereby allowing you to reclaim your life and save yourself from becomming the vagrant.

Perhaps you bet your friend you can guess a card (symbol, name etc.) that he's thinking of. Bet big -- everything you own! And you get it wrong. And in the end, as an old man, you wrote, "I should have guessed the Queen of Hearts."

Then, when you have the new notebook, the first page of your "new life" has the appointment with your friend

Or the card he thought of.


Sean
Andrewdavidson12
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David,

I love this idea. It reminded me of something really weird that happened when I was at university. An old man approached me in a bookshop and, without saying a word, gave me a carrier bag. I took it, more through embarrassment that anything else, and watched him do down the next aisle. When I turned the corner he'd gone! In the bag was an apple which I threw away (well, would YOU eat it?!?) and a very odd notebook with odd verses in it. It described itself as a hymnal.

I took the book home and showed it to my housemates (who were a little freaked out by it. The kicker is that it then just disappeared. It had been sitting on our table and then it had gone and no one had a clue where it went...

So your idea sparked out this memory and I'm hoping to use it for an effect. Thanks.

In relation to your effect I think the story is so engrossing that a simple book change would be easily executable. Misdirection aplenty I would have thought.

It's one of those marvelously cerebral effects where the performer only has to make clear enough of the story to enable the spectator to, with some thought, get a real sense of the hidden parts. Very strong.

A
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And on Caleb's statem,ent, I would see if there is a film student who needs a class project to do!
Kay and Tory
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David de Leon
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I’m really glad people liked this idea! Even more happy that people get the point and appeal of it! See, I wasn’t sure whether to pursue this, but now I feel more confident that the work will be worthwhile. Also, lots of nice ideas on where to take this basic concept.

I must also say that I was pleasantly surprised by Andrew’s story: an old man gives you a carrier bag with an apple and a very odd notebook! I can’t believe that this actually happened to you, and I think it is an excellent basis for an effect. The fact that he gave you a carrier bag and that there was also an apple in it -- as well as the note book -- just made it so much more real! To me it is those kinds of details that help sell this kind of thing. I would gladly (with your permission, of course) incorporate this into my own routine: put the journal into a carrier bag (a symbol of poverty and modern society) and add an apple. The fact that you wouldn’t eat the apple is also one of hose small and beautiful details. It shows that you are human, but it also embodies what we feel about the odd people in our society.
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