Alex Stone is the author of a new book called "Fooling Houdini," about magic, psychology, and perception, in which he reveals how many illusions are achieved. In fact, last week in the Wall Street Journal he explained how to steal a watch. Of course, this flies in the face of the traditional magician's code of silence about how tricks are done. Stone disagrees with the code, claiming that "Magic is a science as well as an art, and in science, knowledge serves only to deepen the mystery. Each new find opens vistas on an unchartered territory at the edge of human understanding. Nestled within each answer lies another riddle in an endless stream of unknowns." I get that, but I still prefer the wonderment. Anyway, Maria Konnikova's Scientific American column further explores Stone's idea:
Take something as seemingly unrelated as fiction—or any writing, for that matter. Read all the books you will on the craft of writing, comb through as many interviews as you can with your favorite writers, collect as many 'how to write a bestseller's as you can get your hands on, and still, the writing you admire will not lose its magic or its grip on your imagination. Even knowing the entire plot, that surprise ending or that give-away spoiler—arguably the closest approximation to finding out the trick of a magic act—is unlikely to limit your enjoyment in any way. In fact, it might even make the process of reading more enjoyable.
In a 2011 study, psychologists from UC San Diego found that individuals who had seen a spoiler paragraph prior to reading a short story rated the story as more, not less, pleasurable. And that held true even of stories where the plot, the "trick" so to speak, was seemingly the center of the experience, such as one of Roald Dahl's signature ironic twist tales or an Agatha Christie mystery.
Why? When we know the plot, the twist, the surprise, we become more able to focus on everything else: language, character, the intricacies of rhythm and technique.
Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone (Amazon)