Excusing bad writing?

Discuss products and their reviews in Genii.
User avatar
erdnasephile
Posts: 3323
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm

Excusing bad writing?

Postby erdnasephile » November 22nd, 2013, 10:33 am

I've read a number of reviews of magic books where the reviewer, after noting how poorly the item is written/produced, has closed with a rejoinder about how if the reader is a true magician/scholar, they'll be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

That's baloney, as it seems to imply that 1) it's OK to communicate poorly since the "good" students will figure it out, 2) if you can't understand it, it must be because you are a lousy student, and my favorite: 3) obtuse, bloated, inscrutable writing necessarily indicates worth, and we're just lucky to be given the chance to sort through it.

May it never be!

Stephen Minch (the best technical writer in magic, IMHO) is able to clearly convey the most complex material without resorting to fluff. Max Maven, does the same, providing all necessary detail in an even more economical way, yet with wit and verve (all the more amazing when you consider it's all written as a first draft). Harry Lorayne has effectively taught several generations with his distinct conversational style.

This is not to say that the writings of these gentlemen (and others like them) are not detailed, challenging, profound, or require no work from the student--far from it! It's just their works share the essential characteristic of being of high quality, yet made accessible to the reader by the superb writing skills of their respective authors.

My favorite non-magic example: In 1953, Crick and Watson managed to describe the structure of the DNA molecule in an elegantly written article. It was all of one page.

So, my encouragement to the magic reviewers is this: keep calling a spade a spade, but let's please not make excuses for those that hope to gain our hard earned semolians. Putting the onus on the student to compensate for the substandard literary skill of the author just doesn't seem appropriate.

Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 7621
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Westchester, NY
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 22nd, 2013, 12:21 pm

E*

our writing seems to fall into a few categories

ad copy - why a wannabe should buy
effect - as described by ... well anyway
method - as if someone should know enough or have sufficient from elsewhere to...
patter - that worked for someone somewhere maybe
mechanical description - suitable for a craftsman, repair effort, operators manual?


exit page down - chased by an angry post-it covered in dire scribbles
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

User avatar
Gordon Meyer
Posts: 298
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Chicago
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Gordon Meyer » November 22nd, 2013, 12:43 pm

Roberto Giobbi deserves mention in any discussion of magic's great technical writers.

Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 7621
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Westchester, NY
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 22nd, 2013, 12:52 pm

Gordon Meyer wrote:Roberto Giobbi deserves mention in any discussion of magic's great technical writers.


Okay... in comparison to Angelo Lewis (Hoffmann) or Victor Farelli, Ganson, Tarbell ... or Wil Ayling, Ken Brooke, Robert Harbin, Gene Anderson, Ed Marlo ...? I'm not comfortable putting any names out there into a short list as preferred or exemplar writers.

How about in comparison to Harry Lorayne who's walked a generation of us through all sorts of moves and procedures in his books and magazine?
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

Ian Kendall
Posts: 2319
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Edinburgh
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Ian Kendall » November 22nd, 2013, 2:17 pm

Writing technical prose is not easy (and certainly not as easy as some would think). Often, poor writing is a symptom of inexperience rather than incompetence. I don't think it's a fluke that all the writers that have been cited here as good writers have a lot of experience.

These days, with the advent of home publishing, pretty much anyone can churn out a book, ebook or pamphlet. Given that most of these people will not have written a few hundred thousand words before, there's a good chance that the writing will be poor; even moreso if they have little or no actual teaching training.

Unfortunately, there is no real fix for this; people will want to publish, and they are not going to let some grammar police stop them from putting out that PDF.

Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 7621
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Westchester, NY
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 22nd, 2013, 2:31 pm

Ian Kendall wrote:Unfortunately, there is no real fix for this; people will want to publish, and they are not going to let some grammar police stop them from putting out that PDF.



crowdsourcing material to verify attribution, practicality, accuracy etc. will fix most of the data over time.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

User avatar
Matthew Field
Posts: 2722
Joined: January 18th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Slydini
Location: Hastings, England, UK

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Matthew Field » November 22nd, 2013, 2:33 pm

The solution, some have found, is to hire an editor.

Ahem.

Matt Field

User avatar
Andrew Pinard
Posts: 362
Joined: March 13th, 2008, 11:13 am
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Andrew Pinard » November 22nd, 2013, 4:33 pm

If I could "like" Gentleman Field's previous post, I would.

ajp

Ian Kendall
Posts: 2319
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Edinburgh
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Ian Kendall » November 22nd, 2013, 5:14 pm

But that's the problem; since it is so easy to publish, and the consensus is that one is not a true magician until one has published, few will bother to hire an editor.

Self awareness is not strong in the group, so it's entirely possible that the writers do not consider that an editor is necessary, because they write so perfectly.

As to JT's suggestion; peer review in an industry where the commodity is secrets will never work, as has been discussed ad nauseum.

Eric Fry
Posts: 110
Joined: March 17th, 2008, 8:45 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Eric Fry » November 22nd, 2013, 7:11 pm

For me, the keys to good explanatory writing are anticipating what the reader needs to know, putting the information in the right order for best comprehension, and anticipating how readers will understand your sentences so you can avoid confusion. And, of course, extensive knowlege of the subject.

I think Richard Kaufman is very good at anticipating what his readers need. You can see it in his books on Lavand and Jennings, which are much clearer than other writers' books on those men.

Paul LePaul did a great job with his book. It's a model of clear writing, photos and design. Too bad it didn't catch on with other magic writers.

Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 7621
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Westchester, NY
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 22nd, 2013, 9:13 pm

One possible antidote to "bad writing" in teaching (pedagogy) type texts is to adopt a position something like: The proof of the text is its ability to guide the willing student from consciously incompetent through consciously competent. Not so much "do as I say or write" but "here's how to know if you are getting this next step working". Similarly The proof of scholarship in this position is not so much what material from a book one can walk through but what one gleans from the book and put into use within their own works.


A couple of questions come to mind about one of our literature's active presuppositions - that doing as the author says or as the inventor did would be sufficient for another performer.
Have you heard of an actor making a prideful claim that they are actively duplicating another actor's performance in a work?
How about a director insisting that an actor duplicate the performance of another actor?
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

User avatar
erdnasephile
Posts: 3323
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby erdnasephile » November 23rd, 2013, 11:56 am

Good points, JT.

Although at this point, I'd settle for clear writing so I can first learn exactly how a performer does his effects.

I like to "live" with effects just as performed by an author before I start changing things to suit me. Without that period, I don't feel I can gain a true understanding of the work and the thinking behind it. IMHO, it's key to understand the work before messing around with it. Al Baker's famous aphorism about "improvements" come to mind.

The inspiration to progress beyond the material is also valuable, of course, but without the first, the chances of the second are greatly diminished.

Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 7621
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Westchester, NY
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 23rd, 2013, 1:16 pm

Probably too much info here but this is about text - and maybe I could do with an editor: :)

What can one get from a text in the performing arts?

Before I took on the Ramsay project I was settled with any feelings about "doing as he did" for reasons including not being similar in shape or demeanor and not being of that place/time/magic club environment. That left a couple of problems in reconstruction before addressing questions like how to make one's method based procedures happen during blind spots and what kind of tricks/props would work in my environment. The Hugard report to Vernon was intriguing. Just what must one do to put one's actions into a cognitive blind spot but without losing the larger flow of a routine and introducing confusion?

That said, pantomime of someone clearly not of the same build and working for audiences not at all like the ones I had available in highschool was an amusing exercise. Others in my cohort were trying on the mantles of their teachers. One was doing the Ortiz material, and well, another was studying with Slydini and of close enough ethnic background and good temperament so that worked out too. Others were trying on material that was less congruent or well tailored to their current character.

So there I was with the Farelli texts at the Lincoln Center library and the first Galloway book. Even with somewhat elaborated "when to look at the audience" there's not much about "how to make this work for you when before live people"

Does the text describe the material in such a way as its novel elements can be discovered? Does the text describe the performance of the material in such a way that the reader can build some mental model of how the show flows from audience perspective?

David Berglass's report of Ramsay at a convention with a cigar in his mouth, a silver at the fingertips of one hand and a copper in the other hand, turning around seems more useful in the modeling than a simple report of sleights, gaffs or apparatus.

I guess later this year or early next we will find out more about Hofzinser and I hope the new texts will offer a more workable picture than I've gleaned so far from the Fischer texts as translated by Sharpe and Hatch. Similarly for Theodore DeLand and his works. Still, over a hundred years to get a "how to" on the guy who invented so much of what we use...

Maybe poor quality text and lots of vetting/re-verification work after publication is a smaller price than mulch-generational waits.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

Bill Mullins
Posts: 4299
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Huntsville, AL

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Bill Mullins » November 23rd, 2013, 1:29 pm

It would be nice if a book could offer as much as Jonathan describes above, but I don't think even the best book (or video, or even personal instruction) can give all that a trick or a magician has to offer. The map is not the territory, and the book is not the effect.

When I think of all the really good magicians that I've been lucky enough to see, I don't think any of them got to be so good from books. They may have started with books, but they got good by performing over and over, making their work their own.

Despite all this, though, good writing is better than bad writing, and if your work is worth publishing, it is worth being well-written and edited. There are too many well-written magic books, and life's too short to spend much time slogging through typos, bad grammar, poor descriptions, bad layout, etc.

User avatar
erdnasephile
Posts: 3323
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby erdnasephile » November 23rd, 2013, 4:20 pm

Bill Mullins wrote:...Despite all this, though, good writing is better than bad writing, and if your work is worth publishing, it is worth being well-written and edited. There are too many well-written magic books, and life's too short to spend much time slogging through typos, bad grammar, poor descriptions, bad layout, etc.


Agreed.

However, I can live with typos, bad grammar, bad layout, etc., but poor or incomplete descriptions can potentially set the learner back considerably. (Ganson's description of the Vernon Wand Spin comes to mind). Worse, sometimes the frustrated learner decides the described sleight/effect just isn't possible or worth doing. I suppose that's where companion videos can shine, although they have their pitfalls as well.

Perhaps some books deserve to be beta tested by members of the intended audience for the book prior to publication. That would likely help find many of the rough spots, and result in a better product. Bob Sheets did such a thing with a video for the shell game, I think.

Bob Farmer
Posts: 2061
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Short card above selection.

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Bob Farmer » November 23rd, 2013, 6:06 pm

Matt Field are man to editing book me wriiting.

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 23670
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Richard Kaufman » November 23rd, 2013, 8:17 pm

It's hard to imagine an adequate description of Vernon's Wand Spin in a book.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

User avatar
Matthew Field
Posts: 2722
Joined: January 18th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Slydini
Location: Hastings, England, UK

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Matthew Field » November 24th, 2013, 4:08 am

Farmer good. Bad writing bad.

Matt Field

webbmaster
Posts: 76
Joined: November 30th, 2016, 11:38 am
Favorite Magician: richard Kaufmann

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby webbmaster » March 22nd, 2017, 4:32 pm

Richard Kaufman is my favorite writer.

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » March 22nd, 2017, 7:00 pm

Eric Fry wrote:
Paul LePaul did a great job with his book. It's a model of clear writing, photos and design. Too bad it didn't catch on with other magic writers.


Oddly enough although the Le Paul book is fantastic and indeed one of my favourite books I wasn't that excited about the writing. Too cursory and I wanted more detail. The Tarbell course as we all know is a classic and has many good points about it particularly the large variety of material. However, his descriptions of various sleights were quite terrible and I don't think the average beginner would be able to master them from his descriptions.

I loved Hugard and Braue better than Hugard on his own. And I learned so much from Lewis Ganson and his classic books. And yet my favourite has always been Harry Lorayne. The clarity, the material and the conversational tone. Really wonderful.

Oh, and for some odd reason I was highly impressed with the astute writing of the fellow who wrote the Berglas book. I wish I could remember his name.................................

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » March 22nd, 2017, 7:07 pm

With regard to editors they can be a very good thing indeed providing they stick to what I call technical editing rather than creative editing. In other words they should concentrate on spelling errors and grammatical matters, paragraph construction--that sort of thing. But not interfering with the style of the author. Avoid a tendency to rewrite paragraphs or even sections in their own style. The authentic voice of the author has to come through.

User avatar
Tom Stone
Posts: 1233
Joined: January 18th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Tom Stone » March 22nd, 2017, 7:59 pm

Technical writing is quite tricky.
Technical writing on non-technical aspects; even more so.
...and doing it in a foreign language takes it to a whole other level of trickiness.
It's not completely by choice that I give poor Richard heart problems with my fluid definititon of the word "deadline". :-)

Bill Duncan
Posts: 1432
Joined: March 13th, 2008, 11:33 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Bill Duncan » March 22nd, 2017, 8:53 pm

Matthew Field wrote:The solution, some have found, is to hire an editor.


What Matt said.

Also, as he can personally attest, the two strongest voices in our generation (Minch and Kaufman) bring to bear considerable editorial review. Look in the front of any of their books and you'll see, along with Matt's name, several others who proof the copy long before it reaches us.

Bill Duncan
Posts: 1432
Joined: March 13th, 2008, 11:33 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Bill Duncan » March 22nd, 2017, 9:07 pm

Jonathan Townsend wrote:How about a director insisting that an actor duplicate the performance of another actor?


Kevin Smith has a wonderful story about asking Bruce Willis to duplicate the delivery of a line like something he did in an episode of Moonlighting many, many years earlier in his career.

Jack Shalom
Posts: 373
Joined: February 7th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Brooklyn NY

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Jack Shalom » March 22nd, 2017, 9:27 pm

Minch and Kaufman are remarkable not only for their clear writing about their own magic, but their ability to describe other people's effects. That's a whole other animal.

For those who describe their own magic, Simon Aronson is very high on my list as a model of clear, thoughtful explanation and inspiration.

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 23670
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 22nd, 2017, 9:35 pm

The level of technical detail at which we now write, which I think can be traced pretty much to John Northern Hilliard, was lacking from most of the books written before the first half of the 20th century with the notable exceptions of those by Hilliard (The Art of Magic and Greater Magic), but most notably The Expert at the Card Table. This is one of the reasons why Erdnase is so important to modern literature. It's not that all the technical details are easy to understand from reading the text the first or second time, BUT THEY ARE THERE. That's one of the most important things I learned from talking with Vernon, was how to read text like Erdnase.

Ditto for both Ross Bertram books. The material is there, but you have to dig. Almost as if the author feels only those who are worthy enough to dig deserve to really understand the material.

And ditto for Expert Card Technique--a great book, but too much hidden between the lines for my taste.

What Minch and I (and certainly others, including Harry Lorayne before us) have done is to end the business of having to read between the lines. I hate that. It's hard enough to learn complex sleight of hand from a book without having to figure out stuff that is being hinted at but only indirectly explained. Screw that!

I like the LePaul book very much, however it is lacking in many technical details in the description of the sleights. Ditto for Lewis Ganson, a poor writer (in my opinion). Tarbell was certainly better, but tackled more elementary material.

I would argue that the major voices for describing complex sleight of hand in our period are not mine and Minch, but that of Fulves and Racherbaumer--their output far exceeds ours even though they've reached smaller audiences. And they describe complex sleight of hand. Both (and I'm sure Jon will pardon me for this) suffer from two things: 1) Poor proofreading and editing; 2) They often worked from either memory, audio cassettes, or phone calls.

It's only because I know Jennings' work so well, and spent so much time with him, that I am able to extract the correct methods from the 90 audio cassettes he left me. Working off audio cassettes in order to describe complex sleight of hand you've never seen is neigh onto impossible unless you are already thoroughly familiar with the subjects work and way of thinking.

In the case of Cliff Green's Professional Card Magic, I have been studying the book since age 14. Digging, digging, digging. It has yielded great results, which I'm certainly going to share when I rewrite the book.

One reason Minch and I have done so well in describing the material of others (which has been the great bulk of our work) is because we were able to meet and work directly with our subjects. The importance of that cannot be overstated.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » March 22nd, 2017, 11:04 pm

I thought Ganson was a terrific writer, particularly his earlier classic books such as the Routined Manipulation series, the Cy Endfield book, The Vernon book, the Vernon card books and the Slydini books. Some of his later stuff was a bit iffy but overall I thought he was a great writer and I certainly learned an awful lot from him

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 23670
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 22nd, 2017, 11:18 pm

He was a superficial writer.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » March 23rd, 2017, 8:07 am

I am surprised you say that. He was very detailed. However, I do know he wrote quickly. He wrote Ron MacMillan's "Symphony of the Spheres" and I was told that Ron was quite surprised at how quickly it had been written. I liked Ganson's writing second only to Harry Lorayne and I learned a vast amount from it. I suppose opinions differ. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and say I thought he was an excellent magic writer particularly in his earlier books such as the Dai Vernon Book Of Magic and the Slydini book. His outcome was prolific and I have often though he never got the credit he deserved. I saw him once at a convention and was too shy to approach him and tell him how much I had learned from him. I really wanted to thank him but I never did.

I know how difficult it is to describe technical sleight of hand. I have done a little of it myself and it is quite a tough thing to do.

HarryLorayne
Posts: 9
Joined: October 22nd, 2016, 12:26 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby HarryLorayne » April 4th, 2017, 5:14 pm

Not sure what's meant by a remark above - "Harry Lorayne before us." Don't understand the "before." Sure; guess I wrote quite a few "before" but also a few "after," like - JAW DROPPERS came out in 2015 and ONLY MY APOCALYPSE came out in 2016 - and JAW DROPPERS TWO is coming out in the fall of 2017. So am I "before" you (Kaufman and Minch) or "after" you? Or does that mean "born before you"? Interesting. HL

HarryLorayne
Posts: 9
Joined: October 22nd, 2016, 12:26 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby HarryLorayne » April 4th, 2017, 5:18 pm

Oh, and re: editors...someone edited my first book for the public (How To Develop A Super-Power Memory) and my second book (Secrets Of Mind Power) - and I HATED their editing! They didn't understand my humor, or much of anything else so far as I was concerned. And - after that second book I became "powerful" enough to refuse any editors - and to edit my own books - which I did for the next bunch of books that I wrote (and edited!). HL (The same, incidentally, goes for proofreading. It ends up that I'm a better proofreader than those hired originally to proofread my stuff.)

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » April 4th, 2017, 6:13 pm

HarryLorayne wrote:Oh, and re: editors...someone edited my first book for the public (How To Develop A Super-Power Memory) and my second book (Secrets Of Mind Power) - and I HATED their editing! They didn't understand my humor, or much of anything else so far as I was concerned. And - after that second book I became "powerful" enough to refuse any editors - and to edit my own books - which I did for the next bunch of books that I wrote (and edited!). HL (The same, incidentally, goes for proofreading. It ends up that I'm a better proofreader than those hired originally to proofread my stuff.)


I certainly thought your Super Power Memory book was fantastic and your voice certainly came through there. I actually preferred it to the Memory Book which came later, although of course that was good too. I don't think I have ever read a book on memory to match "How to Develop a Super Power Memory". I would like to have seen it before the editor got at it to see which I would have preferred! The Secrets of Mind Power seemed a little drier to read and that may possibly have been because of the influence of the editor for all I know. It was still a very good book.

As I stated in my own post I think an editor is invaluable in some ways as he or she can see things as an outsider that an author may not see since he or she may be too close to the manuscript. But on the other hand I really think that in the main they should stick to technical editing such as grammar, spelling and sentence construction and avoid trying to write the book themselves putting their own style into it. This can dilute the personality of the author coming through. They should advise if they see fit but never dictate.

With regard to Harry's magic books some of them deserve to be called classics and I hope they don't wither away in people's memories when he is not around any more. I think this has happened to Lewis Ganson to a degree and I am astonished that so many young people in magic have forgotten who he was.

My favourites are probably Close up Card Magic, The Magic Book, Reputation Makers, Decksterity but they are all bloody good and quite frankly it is hard to choose between them.

With regard to his memoir, "Before I Forget" I have to confess I wanted more from it. Possibly because I admire the subject of the book so much. It was an excellent book as far as it went but I hope Harry will forgive me for saying I wish someone else had written it. Someone to bring out the psyche of the person and dig beneath the surface. Superficiality is fine but some of us want more in light of such a significant figure in the history of magic. To bring out the REAL Harry Lorayne!

To quote the esteemed Glenn Bishop
Just my opinion.............................
Just my opinion!

HarryLorayne
Posts: 9
Joined: October 22nd, 2016, 12:26 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby HarryLorayne » April 4th, 2017, 6:49 pm

I'm pleased that you're the only one with that "down" opinion. Most everyone else I've heard from and "read from" think that it's one of the best memoirs they've ever read. So thanks - good to have just one like you to compare to.

Bob Farmer
Posts: 2061
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Short card above selection.

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Bob Farmer » April 4th, 2017, 9:07 pm

Harry Lorayne is a great writer, whether of magic books or other books, because his personality and enthusiasm explodes out of every sentence. He doesn't need an editor, all he needs is something to type on that has a working exclamation point.

Along the same lines: John Northern Hilliard--a real writer, not just a magic scribbler.

Others (me) do need an editor and I've had two of the best in Matt Field and Mike Vance (who find completely different things to fix). I've also had the assistance of both Richard Kaufman and Stephen Minch--these guys wrote the book on how to write the book.

I loved Frank Garcia's and George Schindler's books because their descriptions were short and to the point. I can't think of a contemporary example. Their books weren't poetry, just bare bones, but were clear and easy to follow.

Mike Close is another excellent writer who doesn't get the credit he deserves.

It's not the style that counts, it's the communication--and the communication of great magic.

Lewis Ganson was a duffer, a dull amanuensis, but he did put out a lot of material, and obviously loved his work, and no library is complete without all of his stuff.

Yeah, there is a lot of extremely bad writing in magic--it ain't easy to write real good--but sometimes the quality of the material overcomes the burden of its explanation, though it seems bad magic and bad writing do go together more often than not.

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » April 4th, 2017, 9:47 pm

HarryLorayne wrote:I'm pleased that you're the only one with that "down" opinion. Most everyone else I've heard from and "read from" think that it's one of the best memoirs they've ever read. So thanks - good to have just one like you to compare to.


I am psychic and knew I would get that reaction! However, you should also note that I am also the "only one" on this thread who has waxed enthusiastic about your books overall! And one consolation is that if my perceived bluntness is what I really feel, it also means that my praise for your books are also sincere rather than sycophantic.

All I am saying is that it is a good memoir but someone of your stature deserves something more in depth. And it is a hard thing to write about yourself in great depth. It takes an outsider to do that. Writing wonderful expository classic works on magic and memory is one thing. Writing about yourself is quite another. It is not an easy thing to do.

User avatar
jkeyes1000
Posts: 96
Joined: August 2nd, 2012, 3:12 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby jkeyes1000 » April 4th, 2017, 9:48 pm

Writing may be deemed “bad” for a number of very different reasons, most of them quite subjective. An author may construct a perfectly clear, succinct article and yet come across as dull due to a cultural bias on the part of the reader. Also, readers of different age groups and different skill levels often find a brilliant work impossible to wade through.

I don’t think any writer can appeal to every reader, which is to say that not all readers have the capacity to appreciate “good writing”. Some need to mature in order to arrive at that point. Conversely, many authors who are popular are not really “good” so much as they are luckily possessed of a common vernacular.

It is very easy to try too hard. Ironically, the hardest thing for some authors to do is lighten up. Readers (like listeners and watchers of all sorts to media) generally prefer the casual approach. But reading a book ought not to be a passive experience. The reader should expect to meet the author half way if he or she is to gain the most of it.

Bob Farmer
Posts: 2061
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Short card above selection.

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby Bob Farmer » April 5th, 2017, 8:16 am

Agreed.

Dan Brown, a talentless hack, is a very popular writer (DaVinci Code), so a lot of people must think he's a good writer. I recall I made it to page 20, before I just couldn't take it anymore.

performer
Posts: 2063
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby performer » April 5th, 2017, 8:38 am

You can produce a good book but still not be a good writer. I learned quite a bit from Bruce Elliott but I always thought he was not a good writer as his explanations were just not clear enough. Frank Garcia was the same. I still remember the late Howard Lyons complaining about "Frank Garcia's incomprehensible writing style". Probably the worst of the lot for bad writing of a terrific book was Roger Pierre writing the Francis Carlyle book. A fantastic book in spite of the bad writing.

User avatar
jkeyes1000
Posts: 96
Joined: August 2nd, 2012, 3:12 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby jkeyes1000 » April 5th, 2017, 11:39 am

Perhaps the best way to write a magic book with universal appeal and practicability is to express each method according to both the learned and the beginner’s sensitivities. Give it the lavish full-blown treatment, then slow it down and simplify it in italics, or in a distinct block of text, so those who “get it already” can skip over it. Like those multi-lingual books that alternate French/ German/ English. The reader could choose his or her own path and nobody would get bogged. Maybe get a co-author to sort of 'translate’ the austere poetry (or illiterate gibberish) of the inventor without compromising it in the least.

User avatar
erdnasephile
Posts: 3323
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm

Re: Excusing bad writing?

Postby erdnasephile » April 5th, 2017, 12:03 pm

performer wrote:You can produce a good book but still not be a good writer. I learned quite a bit from Bruce Elliott but I always thought he was not a good writer as his explanations were just not clear enough. Frank Garcia was the same. I still remember the late Howard Lyons complaining about "Frank Garcia's incomprehensible writing style". Probably the worst of the lot for bad writing of a terrific book was Roger Pierre writing the Francis Carlyle book. A fantastic book in spite of the bad writing.


I would like to please offer a respectful alternate opinion.

I tend to evaluate books on several factors: strength of material, clarity and completeness of the writing, useful book design, quality of illustrations, and physical plant. In my humble opinion, while Carlyle's material is first rate, the book itself fails on so many levels that I have a lot of trouble thinking of it as a great book.

For example, in the LePaul cards to wallet routine, the photos don't even match what is supposed to be happening, the design is a hodgepodge of styles that distract, misspellings abound, and simple details like page numbers in the TOC don't even exist. Some photos are so poorly shot that the author saw fit to trace over them (ex. pg 107), and the technical descriptions of effects are mostly cursory at best--the "description" of the Zarrow shuffle iis a particularly egregious example. There are also a lot of weird, pointless asides (ex. pg 123) that add nothing.

Sure, now, some 40 years later, I have the knowledge to extract the good parts from the book despite the mess, but back in the day, it was a real drag to try to learn these effects, and just a frustrating waste of a valuable resource. I have always wondered how much the real work from Carlyle was lost due to the sloppy writing.

P.S.: I just noticed something on page 178 that might explain a lot! ;)


Return to “Light From the Lamp”