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Stephen Long
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Iíve always loved writing stuff yet seem to always have minor problems in writing my own patter. Just recently, for example, I learned Paul Harrisí íResetí.

A trick in which the performer shows four jacks and four aces. the jacks are counted and placed on the table.

The aces are then changed, one at a time, for jacks. Then suddenly changed back into the four aces. The tabled packet is picked up and the four jacks (seen in the performerís hand just a moment ago) are found.

Now, I am getting close to mastering this trick but I donít want to perform it without a relatively entertaining patter.

"Look, theyíve changed" just wouldnít cut it for me.

Any thoughts on possible patter for this trick?

Any thoughts on patter in general?

Iíd love to hear some opinions on it.

many thanks


Peter Marucci
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Writing original patter is tough -- really tough.

If I were less modest, I wouldn't do this, but . . .

My two sets of lecture notes -- Funny Business and Peter's Patter -- include information on writing your own patter.

And almost anything by the late Sid Lorraine is a great help.

But there's not much out there (of real use) to help you write your own patter.

Some -- but not much.


Peter Marucci

Joshua Quinn
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Iím also a big fan of writing my own patter, but I agree it can sometimes be more of a challenge than perfecting the mechanics of the effect.

Gonzolo, hereís one small but potentially useful tip that I gleaned from playing jazz piano, of all things: know when to lay out.

As a pianist in a group setting, I spend a lot of time accompanying soloists. After I had done this for long enough, and spent enough time figuring out how many hip chord voicings I could play beneath a given melody, and how many tasty fills I could sprinkle in the spaces, I eventually learned that there were times when the best thing I could play was nothing.

In magic, I approach patter as the accompaniment to the effect. Accordingly, I always try to be aware of when the best thing I can say is nothing. If youíre stuck for what to say at some point in a routine, remember to consider the option of being quiet for a moment and letting the magic speak for itself. Itís not always the best option, of course, but it might get you out of more holes and clear the way for more moments of wonder than youíd think.

To use your Reset example, once youíve established that the jacks are on the table and the aces are in your hand, you could easily get away with saying something as simple as "Now watch carefully..." or "And now the magic begins...", and then doing all four changes without a word, flowing smoothly from one to the next.

If that isnít to your liking, an altogether different approach would be to set it up as a test of memory/observation skills for the spectator. Show the aces and ask if they remember which one was on top, and after they guess, admit that it was a trick question because the top card is actually a jack, etc. Of course in that case youíd have to choose your words and inflections carefully in order to keep the effect from turning into a mean-spirited sucker gag (which you probably want to avoid in general, and which that trick in particular is entirely too good for).

Speaking of patter-writing, hereís something thatís been on my mind for a while:

Why is the patter that comes with so many effects so startlingly awful? I mean this as a seious question. Iím not talking about all or even most effects, as Iíve picked up many whose patter was effective and well thought-out. But Iíve also come across PLENTY of patter -- much of it packaged with otherwise high-quality products -- that seemed distinctly like it had been thought up in the five minutes before the instructions went to press, by someone who had never performed or even seen the effect, and who spoke english as a second or third language.

Take for instance the Pen Through Dollar -- a great little effect. But the one I got came with exactly one sentence of suggested patter:

"I thrust this pen through this bill!"

Could you imagine saying that out loud, in front of an audience, with a straight face? Of course not, unless maybe youíre Terry Jones doing a Screeching Old Woman voice. But someone, somewhere, actually thought highly enough of that line to write it down on a piece of paper, after which it was probably approved by at least one or two other people before it went to the printer and ended up in my hands. How does this happen?

I even checked the origin of the product to see if maybe it really had been translated from another language; it was manufactured in England and distributed out of New York.

To help alleviate this problem, I would like to formally offer my services as a Patter Editor to any magic manufacturers who may be reading this forum. For any effect you market, I will make sure that the accompanying patter meets the minimum requirements of

1) making grammatical sense, and

2) being utterable to a native english-speaking audience without resulting in immediate ridicule and humiliation of the performer.

If the patter you give me absolutely canít be molded to fit those requirements, I will then omit it entirely, thereby leaving more blank space on the page for the performer to write in suitable patter of his/her own.

My fee for this service is negotiable, but will probably be something along the lines of a copy of any effect I work on plus an iced mocha.
Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution. Unfortunately every problem also contains the seeds of an infinite number of non-solutions, so that first part really isn't super helpful.
Stephen Long
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Thatís great advice. Thanks very much.

(I, too, play the piano Smile )

I had considered shutting up, but for most of my tricks Iím kind of a talkative thing, a dead silence in the middle of one of my routines might not work.

Although I do take the point - sometimes the magic does need to speak for itself.

For example the other day at a friendís family get together, I (somehow) made a signed card in one spectatorís hands switch place with an indifferent card in another spectatorís hands on the other side of the room.

My patter for this is explaining a little about misdirection. I then tell everyone what it would require for me to switch the cards (I would have to pace over to THIS side of the room, take your card, bring it over to THIS side of the room... all without you noticing. and some would say itís just not possible because Iíd notice if someone pried open my hands, wouldnít you agree? look inside your hand)

After the card has switched somehow, something would be lost if I said "Look, I have made the cards switch places with each other thereby baffling all concerned."

(which perhaps is what some magic manufacturers may suggest.)

Silence, too, is an art... but writing patter...?

Iím still at a loss.

How do people feel about using other magiciansí patter? do you feel unoriginal?

or does that, not, bother you if the patter youíre borrowing is good enough?

Something to think about

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This may be going deeper than you want to go, but maybe thinking about your character will help. My magician character doesnít exactly have magical powers, but he likes to show off cool stuff he has come across in his travels--alien eggs, cursed cards, con-man tricks to avoid, or he likes to tell stories about these things using cards, rope or whatever as an illustration. Knowing this, it helps me figure out what a trick is suppose to be about, which helps me know what I might want to say (or not say).

I love it when I ask a simple question and am given more to think about than I had in the first place. Smile

Scott F. Guinn
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Quinn--excellent advice. The difference between a guy who plays an instrument and a musician is that the latter understands that music is as much the silence between the notes as the notes themselves! Nice analogy.

To answer your question as to why the patter is so bad in most marketed effects...

Most magicians think that the trick (the prop itself) IS the magic! Very few of those who market effects would have passed my 9th grade English class. these are hardly the folks who should be writing patter, or even instructions for that matter! Since their main concern (sometimes their ONLY concern) is with the prop, they donít bother with the presentation or with making sure the instructions are of high quality. Thus, you get the drivel seen in many of todayís marketed items--even many of the slickly produced, glossy, four color works of art put out by the big companies.

I rarely use the presentation that comes with an effect anyway. But I have the gift of gab. I have since I was about two, and it has always come easily for me.

If you donít have this gift or arenít at least moderately capable, I suggest you find a friend who is gifted in this way. Have him watch the effect and make some suggestions for plots and scripts to use while presenting it. You will be amazed at how easily and happily this type of person will come up with several different ideas for one effect!

If all else fails, go to your local college or junior college and talk to the professors who teach writing and drama. If they are too busy, ask them to recommend some students who might be able and willing to help. Offer to pay. Many will be willing to do it for free, possibly even as a project for credit in their class.

Failing that, contact some of the magicians on this board and elsewhere whose work you admire and ask them for help. Most will be very willing, although it may take some time, due to other commitments.

Good luck!
"Love God, laugh more, spend more time with the ones you love, play with children, do good to those in need, and eat more ice cream. There is more to life than magic tricks." - Scott F. Guinn
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Peter Marucci
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Quinn, you stopped too soon! Or, at least, you let the purveyors of patter off too easily.

Virtually all patter that comes with a trick is unusable.


Partly because the tricks are old and the manufacturer has never updated the instructions or patter.

(Imagine doing a routine involving an outdated nursery-rhyme theme for a bunch of today's kids, raised on MTV and action computer games!)

And, secondly, because much of what is being peddled today as magic tricks is, in fact, junk being hustled for a quick buck.

In that case, nobody is going to put any thought into the patter.

Or, if they do, it's been translated from the original Japanese into Finnish and then English by a Polish translator living in Botswana.

The result is a garbled mess that is of no use to any performer.

(Trouble is, a lot of people think the patter that comes with the trick is the "last word" and so they use it verbatim; a fitting punishment would be to make them listen to tapes of themselves doing this for eternity!)

I write my own patter for every, single thing that I do.

So, you say, you can't write patter.

Wrong; just about anything you do will be better than the rubbish that comes with the trick.


Peter Marucci

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it's been translated from the original Japanese into Finnish and then English by a Polish translator living in Botswana.

Obviously the same guy who writes manuals for Microsoft.

Pick a card, any card...No. not THAT one...THIS one

Ray Banks
Stephen Long
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Iíd like to thank everyone for their advice, and Peter for his, "itís been translated from the original Japanese into Finnish and then English by a Polish translator living in Botswana" comment.

Too funny.

and has inspired a post in the "I want to see the manager" forum, which I shall post after this one.

The original reason for this post was because I couldnít think of patter for "Reset".

anyone else stumped for ideas, as well?

thanks again



Never argue with a fool.

He may be doing the same thing.
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