Scriptwriting for Magicians

Discuss the latest feature articles in Genii.

Postby Pete McCabe » 04/09/02 11:59 AM

A glitch somewhere between my computer on which I wrote my recent article and the press that printed it caused the sample scripts to have different formatting that that described in the article itself. Oops!

Although the primary benefits of scripting your magic come from the process itself and not so much the formatting, there are some benefits to the formatting described in the article.

So, here are the differences:

1) Character names in the sample were centered, instead of at the two-inch tab mark as indicated in the text.
2) The dialogue in the sample was centered. It should be left justified at the 1-inch (both sides) dialog margins.
3) The sample dialogue was printed in italics, which is much harder to read than regular text.
4) There should be an extra blank line (i.e. extra carriage return) after every action line and after every speech.

When you're writing a script, you stare at it and read it over and over, many times. Anything that makes a script easier to read makes every minute you spend on the script easier. If you follow these four points your scripts will definitely be easier to read than the samples.

Hope this at least clears up any confusion.

Pete McCabe
Posts: 2135
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 04/09/02 12:42 PM

Thanks, Pete! That was a great article, btw - I started using the advice in it right away, though it's been a few weeks since I've worked on my scripts...I should start doing that again tonight!

Jim Maloney_dup1
Posts: 1709
Joined: 07/23/01 12:00 PM
Location: Northern New Jersey

Postby Ian Richards » 04/09/02 03:10 PM

Hi Pete,
I also enjoyed your article and thought that it was very practical. In writing out effects, I had previously alternated paragraphs of patter, in italics, and actions, in plain text. In the article you noted that hand and finger placements did not belong in the action sections. As an aid in learning an effect, I have found it helpful to include these and other similar details. Perhaps this information should be placed at the end of the script or in bold or underlined text within the script? Thanks for any input.
Ian Richards
Posts: 44
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Dallas, TX

Postby Guest » 04/09/02 09:34 PM

Great article. Probably the most practical article I've read all year. I've taken to writing out scripts for my effects for the past year and have now noticed a considerable amount of improvement in my confidence and performance ability. The article was great because it detailed HOW to write the script. Until now many have just championed WHY you write the script. I'm looking forawrd to revisiting my scripts with the knowledge gained from Mr. McCabe's article.

Since I don't have access to the Palatino font on my computer I've been using the Bookman Antiqua as a substitute. Can others recommend any other typefaces that are easy on the eyes. (I admit I was using the courier when I first began writing my scripts.)

Anyway, I'd love to see more articles on this topic in Genii.

Best regards,
Rich Kameda

Postby Pete McCabe » 04/09/02 10:01 PM

I can't tell you how gratifying it is to hear that something I wrote is helping you improve your magic. There is no greater honor for the magic writer.



Great question. I experimented with three solutions to integrating secret descriptions, points of technique, etc. into Action lines.

You can use a separate paragraph style called "Secret" which is 10-point (i.e. 2 points smaller than Action and Dialog) and which has a 10% gray fill. It's easy to scan the script and mentally eliminate anything small in gray. This works and is pretty easy if you're handy with styles.

Make the action a side-by-side table with what the audience sees on the left, and what the magician does on the right. This doesn't work and is hard.

Use simple parenthesis to put the technique in the description. Ex:

Pete squares up the deck (Topping the Deck) and hands it to the spectator.

Alternately put it at the end of the sentence:

Pete squares up the deck and hands it to the spectator (Topping the Deck).

These both work and are very easy.

I don't use any of those anymore -- I just keep all the technical details of each routine in a separate file. So I leave all technique out of the script.

But Jamy Ian Swiss told me he sometimes includes technique in his scripts. It certainly doesn't seem to hold Jamy back any.

Rich Kameda:

Even without seeing it I can tell you that Bookman is a good font.

Generally the easiest fonts to read are the simplest serif fonts. If you're not a font guru, Serif fonts have little "feet" at the ends of lines. Times and Palatino are Serif fonts. Helvetica is a Sans-Serif ("without serif" in french) font. Sans-Serif fonts are typically used in headlines or short text blocks, mostly.

So, what you want is a good, easy to read serif font.

As a rule, any font with the word "Book" in its name will be a good, easy-to-read, serif font.


Pete McCabe
Posts: 2135
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Ian Richards » 04/10/02 06:27 AM

Thanks for the great suggestions. I will give the "secret" paragraph format a try. Time to get friendly with the word processing manual. Thanks again,
Ian Richards
Posts: 44
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Dallas, TX

Postby Richard Tremblay » 04/10/02 10:03 AM

Originally posted by Pete McCabe:
Make the action a side-by-side table with what the audience sees on the left, and what the magician does on the right. This doesn't work and is hard.
Mr. McCabe,

First, let me thank you for the insightful article. I really liked it and it has reinforced me to write my scripts. It is of upmost interest to see how a professional scriptwriter works and the tips you shared are very valuable. I had written some "official" scripts (not enough...) for a part of my repertoire and I used the side by side format. Although it is heavier in term of work when writting, I found that it helped me to clarified or enhance some point of my presentation. For exemple, when I want a move to be done at a precise moment of the script for the purpose of misdirection. Also, it help me to practice a routine that I haven't done for a long time by re-acquainting me of the moves (by reading only the right side of the script) then to incorporate the script itself.

Best regards.

Richard Tremblay
Richard Tremblay
Posts: 93
Joined: 03/14/08 08:42 AM

Postby Pete McCabe » 04/10/02 11:07 AM

Richard Tremblay:

Hope I didn't seem too flip in dismissing the side-by-side idea. I am assuming that you are using the side-by-side format with your dialog on one side and the actions on the other. I think that's the only way to match up secret moves with specific moments of your speech.

This is certainly doable: the so-called "Video" format uses two columns with the action on the left and the spoken words on the right. It's used by most non-narrative shows (i.e. newsmagazines like 60 minutes where they're not telling a fictional story) because it makes it easier for the producers to keep track of every shot they need.

I personally find it very hard to read a script in this format, because you tend to just follow one column all the way down. As you point out, that can be an advantage in relearning an old routine.

Bottom line is, if it works for you, do it. The benefits of scripting are much greater than any small differences in how you do it.

I was referring to the idea of breaking just your action paragraphs into two columns, with visible actions on the left and invisible on the right. This is a big hassle to be inserting tables ever other line, and it is of only limited benefit because it doesn't allow you to line up secret moves with specific moments of dialog.

But again, if it works for you, do it.
Pete McCabe
Posts: 2135
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 04/10/02 11:31 AM


Formatting glitches or not, I just wanted to let you know how amazingly useful your article has been. After struggling with standardizing my scripts (and most of the time saying "Forget it" and typing out paltry notes), you really put me on the right track. Heck, I've even started writing an actual screenplay that I'm hoping to con a couple of friends into helping me put on video.

Thanks again, and I look forward to more nut-and-bolts articles in the future.

Postby Richard Tremblay » 04/10/02 12:17 PM

Mr. McCabe,

Thank you for your commentary.

Here is the way I do my scripts:
I make a table with 2 column, the right one beeing smaller.

On the left, I write my script and on the right, I write the moves.

I always left the adjacent space blank (for example, if I write on the left column, there is nothing written right beside it on the other column). It help for the clarity.


Richard Tremblay
Richard Tremblay
Posts: 93
Joined: 03/14/08 08:42 AM

Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/10/02 09:59 PM

I'll toss my two cents in regarding a font that is easy and comfortable to read on screen: Century Schoolbook. I immediately convert any text files that come my way into it and it's so much easier on the eyes.
I like Palatino and have used in it several books during the early 1980s, however Century Schoolbook has been my favorite for years.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 22216
Joined: 07/18/01 12:00 PM
Location: Washington DC

Postby Conus » 04/12/02 04:02 AM

I've written video and film scripts for over thirty years. Normally, I opt for the "Hollywood" style script format ...

In that format, stage directions are written flush left, names are centered, and dialogue is indented left & right. "Personal directions" are placed between parenthesis directly below the name. (Personal directions are meant to clarify speech that could be read a number of ways, such as "bitterly" or "joking")

However, giving some thought to "magic scripts," I see the benefit of the double column format (magician's actions & patter). I would suggest breaking the script into "scenes" -- scene headings placed atop the 2-column tables would describe what the audience sees.

Another alternative is to use a 3-colum table, the left most column containing what the audience sees.

I'd probably break each action-dialogue bit into rows. Table cells would probably make it easier to synchronize everything.

Just my two cents ... I should knuckle down & write my scripts!
-- Conus
Posts: 44
Joined: 01/19/08 01:00 PM
Location: Midwest USA

Postby Jeff Haas » 04/12/02 01:11 PM

It occurred to me that this is another topic that could benefit from an online addition. If there was a place that you could download Microsoft Word templates for the various script formats, perhaps with a sample script in them, it would be helpful to those just starting to learn this format.

Jeff Haas
Posts: 924
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: San Mateo, CA

Postby Ruben Padilla » 04/12/02 03:38 PM

Pete is more knowledgable about this topic than most of you know, and more than he modestly admits to. I'm sure those of you who've posted on this topic will no doubt benefit from seeking out a "format" for your scripts. However, I wish that more people would simply put pen to paper in any form, simply to see for themselves how transformative the process of writing can be for a creative artist (in any field). Rambling prose, doodling, a list of possible presentational angles, lines of dialogue, effects without methods, methods without effects, dream acts, favorite tricks, books to read, anything on the page can inspire, instruct, and better your magic. I strongly urge all of you to open a new word document now, this minute, or grab a sheet of good old fashioned paper and spew forth ideas. We all benefit from your doing this. In an effort to lead by example, know that I'm writing a new presentation for a psychometry routine, starting right now...
Visit for exclusive book, trick, DVD, & convention reviews!
User avatar
Ruben Padilla
Posts: 375
Joined: 01/20/08 01:00 PM
Location: Los Angeles

Postby Guest » 04/12/02 05:25 PM

Preach it, Brother!

Hats off to Mr. McCabe and Genii for publishing this sorely missing area in ALL of magic.

Return to Feature Articles