Thursday, February 08, 2007

Deren Brown - Tricks of the Mind

Ah, the wonder of Derren Brown.

His, Tricks of the Mind has just arrived in the library, and on the good advice of my mentor Solvejg, I've half-inched a copy before the stock unit finished processing it. Fortunately for them I pointed out that it wasn't so much a biography, as they were presently labelling it (920 on the good ole Dewey Decimal system) but in fact a non-fiction book on mentalism.

So, there we go. I've had to wait days - because they keep forgetting to give it back to the cataloguer for redefinition. Which is why I've stolen it. And, despite my slow reading ability, I'm already 163 pages in... and that's with stopages to do the exercises.

And what exercises they are!

My powers of recall are up there with the worst of them... they really are. Give me the Generation Game and I'll be sat with my family trying to reel off 'Big fat teddy bear... ooh, ooh, glasses set... bowls.... wasn't there a holiday in there somewhere?'

Well, DB cuts to the chase in part 3 with Memory. And he goes through the process of explaining three very simple (ahem, mostly), but very effective methods of recall - which made me giggle with delight when I got it to work... and it worked first time.

  1. The Linking System

    From a list, link the words together one after the other using vivid images that elicit some kind of emotion in you (anger, disgust, humour). Things of colour, beauty, wonderment, ugliness, preposterousness.

    For example take the following words:
    Beetle, Drill, Bonzai Tree, Snow... etc

    We link them together either through story or just by momentary situations. Ahem...

    I see a Beetle trying to Drill a hole through some poo (yep, some old muck) He gets the drillbit stuck and is flung off when the drill itself spins around and centripetal forces come into action... okay, that's one. Imagine that beetle with the drill.

    Next we have a great pneumatic Drill which is being used by a Bonzai Tree, but everytime the Bonzai Tree attempts to start it up, the shaking shakes off all the Bonzai Tree's little green leaves. The tree is miserable.

    The Bonzai Tree suddenly cheers up when it starts to Snow however. As the white stuff comes tumbling down, the tree pretends it's Christmas.

    And so on, and so on. Try it by writing a list of twenty and going through them once in this manner. Just remember to make your visualisations really vivid.
  2. The Loci System

    Using a location or set of locations that you know well and placing tasks, ideas, people, images, words in these set locations. You can then walk through the building, the journey home, around your house, a palace, castle, where ever, and having assigned them to the set locations, everytime you conjure that location to mind you will recall what relates to that also.

    I won't go on with the ins and outs - you'll have to read DB's book.
  3. The Peg System

    This works by assigning a number to a word, or a consonant sound, from which you can construct mneumonics, or again, vivid pictures. This can either be used to remember long numbers, or in conjunction with the other two above to generate good memory of times, dates, remember what was in a certain place on a memorised list, etc, etc.

Why does any of this really matter to me beyond better recall? It points to the fact that vivid, strange imagery sticks with the reader. If I can replicate this in my novels, then they will stay with my readers, and as Solvejg once said, I can refer obliquely to something I've already mentioned and return the reader to that set state of emotion/memory, not giving me power over the reader, but just helping them to be a part of the events a little more than they might be.

I think more specifically in relation to The Library Book (my YA novel), I need to make the spells that are cast always have some physical reaction, or at least give those who witness them, something to sense. I could have the invocations retuning the molecules in the air to generate their power and that could always affect my characters in some way. Also, requiring some powerful metaphor. Take for example, Penthera's charm spell, using words and binding with incense:

The command slithered through the humid air like a python through underbrush, carving a trail towards its intended victim. The words hissed hypnotically across the counter, eased into sleepy ears by the heat rising to the vaulted ceiling... the scent that now snaked about his wrists and up around his chest. He saw as much as smelt the trailing wisps of spiced opium that wound and danced around him. The incense was almost imperceptible and yet he could feel it shackling his body in place and entrancing his thoughts.

Then, there's Penthera's manifestation of power (I haven't quite worked out a name for the spells yet... maybe I could leave that until another novel):

Penthera puffed up her chest with a deep breath that seemed to diminish the light. Her essence filled the counter, expanding high into the vaulted ceiling. Though she neither moved closer nor changed in physical appearance the world appeared to grow small around her. The humidity solidified, cooling and condensing so suddenly that a thunderous tremor passed through the atmosphere between the hot and cold air streams... Droplets of water formed upon Rodan’s bare arms and he shivered.

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