On the successful manufactory of aprilfoolsery


Thutopia is an interesting place. We produce a lot of nonsense here, as well as the occasional bit of thoughtfulness. But one thing we don't do is lie. With the exception of one special day a year. And successfully pulling this off is getting harder and harder every year.

In the good old days, even the most respected newspapers would pull massive hoaxes on April First (I'm sorry to report, however, that returning to a sense of play will not stop the coming Newspaper Apocalypse); these days? not so much. NPR always comes up with something dandy (yesterday: whale farming) and Google was in top form yesterday with CADIE.

That said, the enforced humor culture of the web is bringing back April's second-most sublime holiday back with such force that many people naturally assume any and every thing that first appears on April One must be a lie.

On top of that, there's the fact that many people have come to expect something from me this time of year. Last year some readers were disappointed that I added "Thapril fools" to the comments. They wanted to make fun of those who fell for it. (This is bad --- management.)

Which is funny, because as far as I know, no one has yet found the jokes in 2007's entry and 2006 is some time ago now.

So. With things being even more challenging, how does one craft a successful gag? Especially with my strict criteria of doing it on the proper day? I don't know, but here's what I tried this year:

1. Set it up days in advance.
    I didn't know what the story was going to be yet, but I hinted at it on Monday. But that required promising the gag on Tuesday, not Wednesday, and just-didn't-get-around-to-it-on-March-31 would have been muy suspicious. So when I learned WIZ was publishing my poem on Tuesday, that was a bit of deus ex machima for the prankster.

2. Start with the truth.
    The first eleven paragraphs are 100% true except the bit about me being sorry in the first paragraph. Everything else is gospel truth.

3. Provide corroborating witnesses.
    In my first Sunstone post I made a list of fellow bloggers and other respectables who were there. I did have to excuse them from witnessing the salient parts of my story and explain why they didn't know about it, but that was easier.

    I then also provided fake witnesses who are, I must admit, real people. I would like to apologize to Sunstone's Mary Ellen Robertson and Stepehen Carter for involving them.

4. Scatter more truth in with the lies.
    Even the lie-part of yesterday's post had large quantities of truth, such as the common points Stephenie Meyer and I share. (Here's another: good Mormon kids who write horror. I'll bet she's as surprised by it as I am. And another:)

5. Believable details.
    The girl may be a total fabrication, but she needs to read real. When I describe her, the details need to be believable and image forming. And since the "horrifying" part of this story is its sexual element, I need to introduce that as well, without pushing it over the top. This was hard, by the way.

6. Same old same old.
    Even though this story is overthetop and welllll out of my normal story matter, my tone and voice and style need to play EXACTLY how I usually tell a story. If they way I tell this abnormal story is abnormal to match the story, no chance of success. For this particular tale, that means the introduction of embarrassment and hesitation balanced with my usual fatalism when I tell potentially embarrassing stories (eg, tonsil tales).

So those are the basics. And good advice for other types of fiction-telling as well.

I do have a question for people.

Every year I have done this, I have indicated that the joke is a joke as part of the post. This year, with invisible text.

It occurred to me this morning that that text may NOT have been invisible for the hordes of you using readers. Was it?

And--finally--thank you all for being good sports. I know this post worked at least partially well because Mr Fob didn't realize it was a joke near the end and Lady Steed was upset at me for forgetting that I had NOT told her this story until she read the comments.

And, after your comments, I really really really do wish I had the video to show you. Because I would totally post it.


  1. Yes, the text was invisible in Google Reader, which is interesting to note because often those types of formatting get stripped out.

    Also: I'm still waiting for the YouTube video. If you have to (re)create it because the event in question may not have happened then so be it. I assume that Lady Steed will need to be involved in the casting process.

  2. .

    That seems like a suitable assumption.

  3. I knew it. It was just a little too much, and I'm sure I would have remembered an, ahem, overzealous Stanford undergrad among the attendees. Though you were late to the Developing Personal Spirituality panel—that was a smart detail.

    Wm's right that the invisible text didn't show up in Google Reader, but now that you mention it, it becomes visible if you highlight the empty space at the end of the post. Now I'll always be suspicious of empty space, thank you.

  4. .

    I do throw in invisible words now and then, yes.

  5. Did your idea of setting it up days in advance have anything to do with my 2008 April Fool's prank? (Or am I just egotistically taking credit for a common April Fool's tactic?)

  6. .

    No doubt it was a subconscious influence.

  7. I use NetNewsWire. Technically, the font was visible, but it was light enough that I only noticed when I went back to see if it was visible and I had just overlooked it.