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Let me explain about the magic system:

You need people to believe you can do X.
Difficult feat needs more believers.
There's no penalty from those who disbelieve what you can do.
Your power increase linearly with your believers.

The protagonist just read an ancient version of "The Secret". This book teaches that instead of you believing you can do something, you need other people to believe you can do something.

What a revelation! In the book, there are many examples: you can throw fireballs. You can become invisible. You can even resurrect the dead if only there are enough people believe you can do that! One catch (or two, actually)... you need to know this secret, and you can't actually know how many people needed to perform something.

Convinced, this soon-to-be mage stepped out to embark his journey becoming a world-class wizard. But he doesn't even have a single believer yet!

How this young man convince people to believe him to start his career, if he doesn't even have a single believer yet?

This story is set on our modern world, and the Secret is already lost, so right now he is the only one know about the Secret.

Basically the system works like an illusion; realization about the truth will dispel the illusion. If a believer is convinced that this young man is just a normal human who cannot do extraordinary things, he will lose the power from this believer (unless he start believing again).

Note: This is not "what my character should do" question, but rather "how to achieve this, given the system and the problem (no believer to start with)".

Update: Manipulating a person is difficult, although not impossible, because it conflicting with the person belief. If the target person has weak beliefs (in other word willpower), it will be easier.

Manipulating a person into your believer is possible, but it will permanently depend on the other believers. If the belief that "he has manipulated X thought" fades, the effect also gone. Thus creating believers by manipulating thoughts is like an attempt to create a perpetual machine.

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    $\begingroup$ Does this system works with "passive" believers, who know about this magician and believe that he is good, or it needs an "active" audience that should believe he can pull a particular trick in front of them? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 24 '17 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander as long as they believe he can do the trick, it is good. However, if anyone know he actually is just a normal human, it will be difficult for them to believe again (human nature; they will doubt his ability). $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 25 '17 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander as long as they believe "Oh I know this person capable of doing that. I've seen him flying myself!" $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 25 '17 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ I am getting at a somewhat different point here. Suppose, he already impressed a group of people and they totally believe in him. Now, he has to perform in front of a new group, and this group is skeptical. Would the faith that he got from the first group help him in second performance? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 25 '17 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. They don't need to be present around him. The easiest way would be to do something the first group already believe he can do. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 25 '17 at 7:08
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Do children count? They are very gullible, find a child and get them to give you the power to control the belief of others. Maybe work up to it, convince one of their (also gullible) friends of something and tell your target child that it's because you're the most convincing person in the world. You've essentially just hacked your power to make you an essential god.

If this isn't "what my (good) character should do", here's a similar idea for an evil character.

  1. Form a cult. A religious cult is a great one, branch it off an established religion and slowly gain followers. It doesn't really matter how long it takes, you can always deage yourself once you've gotten that power.

  2. Slowly establish yourself as a prophet of your cult deity. This should come with powers. Since you're a cult leader, perhaps convince your cult members that you have the power of belief, and that is how you drew them from their previous "inferior" lives. The execution may be different, but you need to get the power to manipulate people's belief.

  3. You're basically a god now, since you can give yourself powers at will via belief. Have fun!

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, children do count. I like your children approach. I was expecting a more serious answer similar to your cult method, not that. And also creative on the "deage" part! $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer. Recruitment. It adds a dimension to the story by introducing a non-magical form of competition. Yes, magic is involved, but you're out convincing people (e.g. children) and that means you need to know more than just magic. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 25 '17 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix I would perhaps write in a condition that you are not able to directly control the belief of others, it makes for a better story. If you don't have that condition, there are two things that could happen. If you make a cult quickly, the story is essentially over since you become omnipotent. If you add in a struggle about how hard it is to start a cult, your writing stops being about your power and starts being about the struggles of the average guy trying to start a cult. Just my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Jose Dzireh Chong Aug 25 '17 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JoseDzirehChong I agree on your point. However, I don't like "exception" on a system, designed just to prevent it going imbalanced. I introduced a "why this won't work" approach as an update. Technically possible, practically very difficult, if not impossible. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 25 '17 at 2:39
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Start as a stage mage. Hide a desk under a piece of cloth. Put a hat on the desk.

"I'm gonna draw a rabbit out of my hat."

Everybody believes that you'll do that. I mean you simply need to hide a rabbit within the desk. However then you remove the cloth and everybody sees that there is no way to hide a rabbit within the desk.

So you take the hat in your hand and claim: "I'll take an other rabbit out from the hat."

Since the people still believe that you are doing some sort of trick, they assume you can do that. Within the next hour you do weirder things until they totally give up the idea that you cannot do magic. (And dozens of rabbits hop around you.)

The thing is: You tricked the people into believing, by gradually removing any possibility how it could be a trick. Repeat that until you have all powers you like.

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Psychic, astrology, or other traditional magic.

Many people believe in these already. Find a local practitioner and become a student. Some belief in your teacher probably spills over to you.

Dress up like an established magic person

If children count Superman or Santa might be good choices, and if not Jesus might be possible. (if the real one shows up it's probably too late to run though)

Stage magic

Heckle a stage magician. Everyone will expect each 'trick' to happen correctly.

or if you are too lazy to leave the house: The internet.

Post fake magic powers videos. Some people believe anything.

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I agree with @lurch's suggestion - start off with basic parlour tricks (rabbit out of the hat, sleight-of-hand card tricks, etc.), then use that initial belief to allow your protagonist to do 'real' magic, and make the belief system grow stronger and stronger.

However, does it have to be any particular system of belief? When we say we "believe in someone", it's because they're trustworthy and capable people. So, if your protagonist is meant to be a good guy, could he perhaps just start as a nice guy who maybe: (a) offers to help people, then actually does help them; (b) is renowned for telling the truth, starting at a small level ("Sorry Dave, I smashed your coffee mug"), to the point where other minor characters know that he's a trustworthy person - even if he says something a bit zany, he's got a good track record of honesty and zero reason to lie.

Also, if you want a more humourous setting, could your protagonist go for a drink with his mates, wait until they've had a few pints, and then try to convince them of something? ("Mike, I bet you I can lift this pint glass with my mind.") They might be more willing to believe something magical if they're not entirely sober...

Another thought

OK - imagine that Justin Bieber is a very powerful wizard, with his million-strong fan base of beliebers... If he did something and made it look like your protagonist did it, would some of the belief transfer over? And vice versa: if your wizard did something and made people think it was Arch-Mage Bieber's doing, would you still get the credit because they're believing in your actions?

Also, is every person equal? If Arch-Mage Bieber believed in you, would his belief count for more because of his huge fan base? Or does his esteem count just the same as one more belief point?

Aside from the Belieber universe, could your hero create a conspiracy? Take credit for Area 51 and Moon Landing-esque notions? Even if later disproved, there will still be a core group of people who hang on to that belief - something that could perhaps prove crucial if the rest of his followers desert him.

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Cult leaders often convince people they have some form of magic power. Psychics, especially using cold reading to talk to the dead, also convince people. I would look at those techniques, and make your character use real life con techniques until he generates enough faith.

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First, he needs some hat. Write "Wizzard" on it. People ask "are you a wizard?" and he says YES.

Some people "Shouldn't wizard be with one Z?" and he says "Only for those who are bad at magic".

So you have people believing he is a wizard OR people who believe he is very good at this.

Extra easy points. As you said it's set in modern world. So what he does is he lands a job at EZO TV as a card reader or as a TV evangelist. He easyly and fast gains followers believing he can do magic things.

PS. You can't prove TV Evangelists are not wizards who know THE SECRET.

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So, it is like starting a professional career in the real world with zero experience and the first employer must take a chance on you (i.e. believe in you)?

If this is the real world, it does not matter if no one else knows the secret. There are still tribes out there that still believe in magical abilities. Choose your market carefully.

Demonstrate your knowledge and get an already famous witchdoctor to "certify" you in one of those tribes. Or, work as an apprentice for that witchdoctor for a while for little or no pay (like an internship).

You DON'T have to convince the witchdoctor. You are just piggybacking off of the already established belief in him by others in the tribe until you do your first trick successful and others start believing in you for other things. If all else fails, just bribe him into introducing you as a witchdoctor from across the ocean.

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  • $\begingroup$ I misread the question originally. I corrected my answer. $\endgroup$ – emawerna Aug 25 '17 at 2:51

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