The Fallacy of Deep Motivation

"Allforms of misinterpretation must occur before the spectators notice anything odd and begin to wonder about it. Once curiosity is aroused, it is hard to satisfy—even when the explanation is genuine."

Henning Nelms, Magic and Showmanship

Magicians often complain that some action in an effect is not "logical." When magicians say that an action is not logical, they usually mean that it's not motivated. Believing that motivation has to be logical is what leads to the fallacy of deep motivation. In fact, a motivation can be highly illogical yet completely effective. This is because the roots of effective motivation are not logical but psychological.

While every action in an effect should be properly motivated, in most cases that motivation doesn't have to run deep. That is to say, the motivation needn't be capable of withstanding twenty minutes of rigorous analysis. If the audience feels impelled to analyze why you did something, youve already lost the battle. The purpose of motivating an action is precisely to keep the audience from analyzing it.

Many film critics have pointed out that the plots of Alfred Hitchcock's movies don't make much sense when you analyze them. The flaws are precisely in the area of motivation. "Why did the protagonist do this? Why didn't he just do that instead? It would have been more logical." But, even Hitchcock's severest critics admit that these questions never occur to you while you're watching the movie. Carried along by the story, you accept the time. The Master of Suspense understood that, king aS log'Ca A nent a character's motivation doesn't have to make seem i" --------

sense.1C u^itchcock's audiences, your audience wants to know what's going Hk ^eXt< They'll accept anything plausible that moves the effect for-magicians have it easier than Hitchcock did. Film critics and ^ film buffs will watch a movie repeatedly and ruminate over it. As a

^Tthey ma.v find logical flaWS t0 P'ck apart" sPectator on|y gets to h fffck once- And' havin& jusc witnessed a miracle, he will be think-scc r^ng conlpletely different lines. He will be asking himself"How?" not 'lVbyi* If the motivations for your actions made sense to him at the time, he won't question them in retrospect.

Even magicians, when watching an effect, will accept illogical but lausible motivations at face value. It's only when they're learning an effect that, plagued by insecurity, they'll think, "Gee, this isn't logical, if you think about it."

Of course, there is nothing wrong with making an action completely logical as long as it doesn't involve labored explanations, additional handling, or anything else that slows down the pace of the effect. It's important, however, to understand the real purpose of motivating critical anions. Your goal is not to make the action logically unassailable, but to make it psychologically invisible.

To achieve this, your actions don't require deep motivation. They just require obvious motivation. Your actions need to make sense in a self-evident way at the moment you perform them. This will guarantee that the spectators will have no reason to analyze the big picture. Your motivations don't have co be able to withstand your audience's critical faculties. They have to avoid awakening those critical faculties.

A simple example should clarify this distinction between obvious motivation and deep motivation. In my version of the Travelers plot (called, «»incidentally, Hitchcock Travelers), I take out a pen to have a spectator «gn the four aces. When she finishes, I place the pen in my pocket. 1 then ave four cards selected and lost in the deck. At that point I take out the Pen and place it across the tabled aces as a paperweight. Ihis action has a jecret purpose. In removing the pen I load a palmed ace into my pocket, need to go to my pocket to load the ace, and removing the pen provides e motivation.

It could be argued that it doesn't make sense to put the pen away if I'm ,ng to need it later. Since I must have performed this effect many times, rons finished with it. The audicnce irmlpreM.,,!.. , .slnce the ,„. 1 J

-jr is finished with it. The audience understands why I do ir j sPccta-acr.on almost instantly. When I later take the pen o'frl ^ 'he sense since I need it to pin down the aces. The audience „„J SCti'"' do ,i and forgets the action almost instantly. undcIwands ,

Hie time delay between putting the pen away and prevents the audience from putting the P^ces together^and'n^ -T.0llt a®a'n logicality. If I were ro put the pen away only to tak ¡To" ^ «" «■ later that would indeed look odd. I, would ha eZ fcr T" ^ picture. That's the key. In order for an audienTto LT °^^ bi6 tioos deeply, they would have to step backand , ' ^

^y're not going to do that. If rh Sed od^ "" * ter the effect, the questio„ they'll LZg? «Mo 7 *

get out from under that pen and i'Zl ^ did fc. rhey did try to look at Ye th " U ^ * *» *

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