Skills and Talent Entry: Sleight-of-hand

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

medium_5066755062Description: manipulating objects with one’s hands using dexterity in conjunction with misdirection techniques.  A person with this skill may hide, switch, steal or even alter an object as part of a magic act or deception. Usually sleight-of-hand is done up close and appears to be an ordinary bodily shift, movement or gesture, making it unremarkable and easily dismissible. A practitioner may also charm through…

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: dexterity (both physical and spacial), being in command of one’s emotions, remaining calm under scrutiny, being personable and articulate, having a strong sense of…

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: charming, clever, discreet, patience, focus, calm, determination, perfectionism…

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • Thieving (pickpocketing, avoiding detection during a burglary, etc.)
  • Spying or reconnaissance (planting bugs, hiding monitoring or recording devices on one’s person, etc.)
  • Entertaining (both as a social activity or means for income, such as a magician)…

Resources for Further Information:

How to Do a Basic Sleight of Hand Magic Trick

How Sleight-of-Hand Magicians Trick Our Brains

Beware of Pickpockets Blog

Talents and skills not only make our characters stand out, they often help them attain their goals. So choosing them strategically can greatly enhance both the character and the story.

If this is something you’d like to learn more about, you can find the entries in their entirety at One Stop For Writers, where all our thesauruses are cross-referenced and linked for easy navigation. If you’re interested in seeing a free sampling of the Talent and Skill Thesaurus and our other descriptive collections, head on over and register at One Stop!

photo credit: Gamma Man via photopin cc


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Gina Scott Roberts
Gina Scott Roberts
6 years ago

Now this made me realize this is a skill a character I already have would have thanks to his upbringing but had not occurred to me.

I always find something useful in your thesauri!

Monday Must-Reads [12/16/13]
6 years ago

[…] Skills and Talent Entry: Sleight-of-hand | WRITERS HELPING WRITERSWRITERS HELPING WRITERS […]

James David Ellen (call me David)
James David Ellen (call me David)
6 years ago


The three sharps were an effective team who always sized up their crowd before suggesting ‘monte.’ They played two kinds of monte. Their preference was three-card monte, a notorious and profitable swindle that baited foolish marks into choosing the money card. The money card was usually a red queen, one of three cards dealt from a deck, and then quickly rearranged after showing the mark that it was one of the three. Arnett shuffled the cards with uncommon skill.

If their nose detected a skeptical bunch, they would deal Mexican monte, a game brought back in 1848 by veterans of the Mexican-American War. They played this game until their marks were drunk, and then switched to three-card monte.

“Look, you gents,” Arnett said to Spillman and Jergamin soon after they set up shop in Worden’s store, “You messed up bad down at Elk City and Hell Gate. Now I’m going to tell you again how we do this.”

“But we’ve been practicing with our cards!” Spillman whined. “I’m getting pretty good at shuffling.”

“You’ll never be as good as me,” Arnett said. Then he fumbled a deck of cards and several fell on the floor. He bent down and picked them up, looking sheepish while he slipped the red queen into his coatsleeve unobserved. “See, you don’t want your mark to think you’re a ‘monte sharp.’ You want them to think I’m as dumb as you.”

“I don’t drop my cards on the floor,” Spillman whimpered.

“You just proved my point. Size up your crowd, see? If they’re a pack of fools, suggest Three-card Monte. We’ll play four hands, and I’ll show you. You play first. I’ll let you win three times and lose only once. I’ll pick the hands you win and the hand you lose. If I want you to win I’ll swap this red queen for whatever card you choose. If it’s the loser hand, I’ll palm the red queen and slip in a black card. Try it.”

Then Arnett shuffled the cards again, this time not dropping any. He showed the red queen and two black jacks face up, then turned them over and twirled the triumverate around clumsily. He leaned back, flicking his eyes to indicate Spillman should pick one. Spillman did, keeping his finger tight on the card.

“If that’s not the red queen,” Spillman said, “I’ll eat my hat.”

Arnett removed Spillman’s finger and turned over the card–a Jack of Clubs.

Spillman put his finger on the second card. “OK, that’s the one.”

Arnett turned it over. It was the Jack of Spades. “Shit,” Spillman said. Arnett turned over the third card. Spillman did not see the red queen slide out of his sleeve.

“You lose,” Arnett said. “I’ll bet you win the next three hands.”

Spillman’s eyes narrowed, then brightened after he won the three hands.

“I’m the dealer, see?” Arnett said. “Your job is to impress the mark with all your winnings and show him how it’s done. Same for you, Jergamin. But don’t horn in on Spillman here. Let him collect his winnings first.”

“You’re the boss,” Jergamin said.

“What if somebody who’s smart as you comes in to play?” Spillman asked.

“We’ll play Mexican Monte,” Arnett said. “It’s a game I picked up down in Texas from a soldier on his way home from the Mexican War back in ‘48. I’m good at it, but you get our geniuses drunk playing Mexican and then I’ll switch to Three Card.”

6 years ago

Great idea for a shady character!!

6 years ago

This is a great idea to add some real interest to a character. Thanks. I love these posts! Keep’em coming.

6 years ago

In my first (unpublished) novel, my main character was an wannabe prestidigitator. Early in the book, he dropped coins, sprayed cards all over the table, etc. He used his little tricks primarily in an attempt to distract his friend when she threatened to get all riled up over things.