The Anatomy of an April Fool’s Prank
I tend to think of April Fool’s Day as Alternate Reality Day. A well-constructed April Fool’s joke is one, which creates, for a moment, a really cool world to live in. But, there are rules. So, I thought I would post my rules for what makes a good prank and then walk you through my most recent one.
- It doesn’t scare anyone.
- It doesn’t raise false hopes.
- It doesn’t hurt.
- You have to fess up.
#1 It doesn’t scare anyone. An example that someone I know actually pulled. He faked his own death so that his girlfriend would come in to find him. That is seriously, seriously twisted. Not funny. Not even a little funny.
#2. It doesn’t raise false hopes. Calling someone to tell them their novel was going to be published would be evil.
#3. It doesn’t hurt. Hand buzzers, Kick Me signs, making people feel like an idiot. Physical and emotional pain are right out.
#4. You have to fess up. Oh come on… if I let you believe that I a prank and you told other people, that would just be mean.
My favorite ones are the ones that come with slow, dawning understanding. Do I get serious enjoyment from pulling the wool over your eyes until you get it? Yes, yes I do. I am twelve years old. However, I also enjoy it when you get me, too. A beautifully crafted prank can be as lovely as a beautifully crafted story, or at least for me it is. I told you a story and just for a moment, my fantasy existed in the real world.
So… Let’s look at this year’s prank in action in which I will now confess that I did not get cast in Farscape (see! Fessing up), in part because it gives you an understanding of how to build trust with an audience for fiction. With speculative fiction, in specific, you have to convince them that something obviously false is real. Glamour? Sorry. Not real.
Step one — Pick something grounded in reality. Like, the fact that I really am a professional puppeteer and really did audition for a speaking role on Sesame Street.
That’s plausible and sets people up to trust you. In fiction, this often takes the form of specific concrete details about environment or a character’s internal life. Now, you can start with the unreal thing and then build backwards, but it’s harder and has a different effect.
Step two — Raise a question. For this year’s prank, I raised the question of “Why was Mary Kermit-flailing?” What this does is create a sense of curiosity in your reader. More importantly, it sets them up for step 3.
Step three — Answer the question. Before you can get someone to swallow something unbelievable, you have to get them to trust you. And the easiest way to do that is to answer the question. It’s a question you created, sure, but still they now know that when they have a question, you’ll answer it. So with this one, I linked to an article about a reboot of Farscape.
Step four — Repeat two to three times. Building trust doesn’t come instantly. If you give your readers truth, followed by questions, then answers, then more truth they will come to believe that you are reliable. I referenced going to Australia. The fact that I have puppeteer friends. The fact that you have to keep secrets. All of which are true.
Step five — Lie to them. Because you’ve built a pattern of answering things, when you give them false information, they’ve got a pattern of believing the things you’ve said. In this case, it was that I had been asked to audition for Farscape. Nope. As far as I know, they haven’t gotten past the script phase. With fiction, it will be something like, “Jane pulled glamour out of the ether.”
So… With all that in mind, can you detail the steps that I took to make you believe that I did not write The Escapement of Blackledge?