All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, April 1, 2024

An April Fool's Day Don't (for writers)

It's April 1st, the day people love to dread, or just dread. People find ways to fool and deceive those around them in interesting, mischievous, and sometimes plain old cruel ways. Maybe it's something as simple as unplugging your co-worker's keyboard while they are away from their desk, or sending out a silly memo that's obviously meant to be a joke. On this day we are all participants somehow - often unwillingly - and hopefully we learn to take things lightly, let the foolishness wash off of us, and go about our business, feeling a little lighter and carefree for the experience.

A warning to writers: Readers do not take pranks so well.

Now, part of writing a clever story involves playing a game with the reader. In the classic-twist-at-the-end story, it is revealed that something the reader assumed was in fact not true, or that something they took for granted was entirely different. In a way, this is playing a joke on the reader by cleverly leading them down a particular path just to say, "Gotcha!" at the end. It requires a certain amount of craft and skill to do this, and it definitely takes practice. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it.

If you and I were walking down the street and I suddenly punched you in the shoulder then shouted, "Ha! Gotcha!" that wouldn't be much of a joke. It would be a surprise, and not what anyone expected, but there's no humor there. Along a similar line, you have that thing kids do when they tell you to look over there, the when you do, they say, "Ha! Made you look!" Well, that much is true, and it played upon my expectation of seeing something, but it isn't exactly funny after the age of nine.

Too often, writers fall into the same trap. It can come in many forms, but they all have the equivalent effect of, "Ha! Made you look!" The writer creates a narrative, then it turns out that it was all just a dream, and the character returns to their life. The character pursues something that turns out to be nonexistent, and goes back to their life none the wiser. And the worst one - the character breaks from the story to have some sort of experience, then returns to the story and the experience never comes up again. These are the literary equivalent of failed April Fool's pranks and should be avoided at all costs.

So how do we know we are writing ourselves into a cheap little joke? The proof should be in the results, as in, there should be results or some form of consequences from whatever occurred. Think about the three examples in the previous paragraph. They all conclude with the character being unchanged, having just wasted time doing something that had no real impact on them. If the character isn't affected, why would the reader be affected? We have to approach these stories and think about how the reader will see a change (or a deliberate denial) in the world around them. The story needs to be impactful; it needs to make a difference. It doesn't need to be a profound statement, but the character at the end should be different in some striking manner. Like the example I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph in this post, if we feel a little lighter and carefree for the experience, then it was worth having. 

So, for anything you write, and for any joke you pull, make sure it has some intention, purpose, and casts a new light on some part of the reader's world. That's the difference between a good joke and just saying, "Made you look!"              

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