A Few Notes on Miracles

In the spirit of Christmas (all right, sort of), I’m here to talk to you about miracles. A lot of the miracles I’ve seen all look the same: they’re big, and flashy, and look like they were designed to frustrate sfx artists and elicit gasps from an audience. They’re big, brass-band climax setpieces. Nothing against the type, but there’s more that can be done with miracles than that.

There are two elements to a miracle: its nature, and its display. The nature of a miracle is what, in essence, it does, whether that’s defeating one’s enemies, saving one or more lives, making some sort of resource last farther longer than it really should, or whatever improbable but ultimately useful effect it might have. The display, on the other hand, is the bells and whistles that go with it. In some cases, you get big fancy displays like the sun doing things that physics and common sense say it don’t. Others, it’s more subtle, like that container of food just never quite hitting empty—you might not even see it until you look at the aftermath.

If miracles are something that people can expect to happen (or rather, if people can expect there to be miracles, since the whole point of a miracle is to be somewhat against expectations), then it makes sense to vary them up. It’s harder to take a Big Shiny Miracle seriously when all miracles are big and shiny; they lose some of their impact. But when in between them, you have little miracles with little displays, and little miracles with outsize displays, and big miracles with tiny displays, it’s a lot less “Oh, they’re trying to make me wow again” when the big/big miracle comes up.

More relevant to the day at hand is a tip I’ve found highly useful: not matching the scope of the nature with the intensity of the display. In many cases, the scope and intensity are matched; small, personal miracles have small, personal displays, and big impressive miracles have sfx-migraine displays. But what is the display for? Sure, it’s necessary to the effect of the miracles in some places (cracking the world comes to mind, if the desired effect requires a cracked world), but in others it’s not; it’s rather like “Look at Me, see what I can do!” To me, at least, it defeats the purpose.

And that brings us back to Christmas. The story’s familiar to just about everyone—its adherents are rather fond of pushing it on everyone else, after all. But the short version: big, BIG effect, big enough to start a religion over. Locally (at least, if you ignore the absurdly bright star, but the guests had to find the place somehow), a pretty small display. The result is a lot more powerful: the nature of the miracle is great enough that one doesn’t need a grand display to realize how big a deal this is.

So think about the nature and display of your miracles, consider maybe having a smaller display for a greater miracle and vice versa. For those who celebrate the holiday, merry Christmas; for those who don’t, enjoy yourselves anyway!

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