April Fools Day
I’m making a brief visit to my blog on this major holiday, because there are lessons for fiction writers in the way successful April Fools Day ‘news’ is composed. I like to test my skills on this special day.
The not so secret to a successful prank is one the tricks for much successful fiction: apparent veracity. You have to write something believable that isn’t actually true. If it is too far-fetched, the reader’s sceptic alarm goes off. It also helps if you cater to people’s prejudices. It is easy to convince people of lies that take advantage of what psychologists call confirmation bias.
I am fortunate in having a ready audience to test my ability, for I can send a group email to the entire faculty at our university. One of the things taught at university is scepticism and checking your sources of information. So this is a tough test of my abilities.
The year we had a big new library built, many of the faculty were upset at the amount of space for actual books as opposed to spacious group study areas or other amenities intended to cater to students. The administration really had allocated shelving space barely sufficient to house the current collection. I outrageously exaggerated the situation in a fake news article that I then inserted in a simulated web page from our local paper. I put the page on my own private web server, wrote a group email about seeing the article, and attached a link to my fake page. Many of my colleagues took the bait—hook, line and sinker. And sent emails to everyone expressing their outrage.
At Nip U., faculty all complain about students' bad attitude toward the academic side of university life, so this morning I modified last month’s Faculty Newsletter by inserting an article about student research that confirmed our worst prejudices about how lazy students were. I attached it in an email wondering why no one had expressed outrage at this evidence of our students’ terrible attitudes.
I’ve been getting email expressing this belated outrage. Eventually, someone always smells a rat and lets the cat out of the bag, especially if they know me.
That just happened! And indeed it was someone who knew me too well. A real spoil sport!