At such times, having written many hoaxes myself, sometimes for my own newspapers, I usually take a second look at the story in doubt to determine if there is some element of hoaxing going on. In many cases, there isn’t — it is either sloppy reporting, or perhaps a very real situation but a cast of characters (or newsmakers) who have done something so unusual that it almost seems as if it were a hoax, when it isn’t.
It does occur to me, however, that an experienced old hoaxter such as myself might have some wisdom to impart to today’s generation of storytellers. Here, then, are Ben’s tips for hoaxing:
- Start with a situation that is based on some reality, but has the possibility to be stretched, twisted, distorted, and otherwise played with to achieve whatever goal you are trying to achieve.
- Naming the newsmakers is a big help. Giving them names that are pun-like or whimsical, through clever combinations of words (like “Silence Dogood”) has always been fairly successful for me.
- You may mix fictitious characters with made-up ones, to lend an air of believability to your story. Even though it may be a hoax, it still needs to have some believability to be taken seriously at first — that is, until the reader discovers the joke.
- One sure method of concocting a hoax is to do a reversal. If the original premise is black, make yours white. If the person you are satirizing is a man, you might consider making your character a woman. If they’re young, make them old. If the real situation occurred close to home, think about giving your story a setting in some far-off land.
- Exaggeration is a very, very important tool. Sometimes you can never do enough exaggerating. Take one person and turn him or her into a hundred. Transform the ankle-deep stream into a raging river. If a person delivers a mild slap, change your character’s move into a knockout punch.
- Generally, no action or plot twist is ever too ridiculous to employ. Sometimes it is those very unusual elements that serve to attract the reader to your story. But always remember to include some elements of reality, as well. Otherwise, if it is too fantastical, the entire hoax may be immediately dismissed before it is even read or heard.
- Think of what your readers or audience desperately and urgently want to hear, and use that as your starting point. A recent hoax about the invention of a hover-board succeeded because many people wanted to believe in the possibility that the device had finally been perfected (even though it was a total fiction in the movie in which it originated, and anti-gravity devices have long been a popular part of science fiction stories).
- Be sure to write in the language or style of whatever you are parodying. My own hoax involving a fictitious chapter of the Bible that I invented as a joke was written in the same style that was then popular in England — similar to the antiquated, formal language in the King James Bible.
- Toying with the time period or setting is sometimes useful. If you are focusing on some present-day issue that in itself would be far too controversial to comment on directly, you might consider creating a story that supposedly happened a hundred or so years ago — or maybe a hundred years into the future — you see, by doing this, it makes the subject matter “safer” for the reader to consider.
- Finally, the character of narrator, or an unimpeachable authority quoted in the article, also helps to establish your credibility, which is critical to hooking the reader into the story. If I tell you that George Washington (or Barack Obama) shared with me a previously undisclosed secret about how the military forces decide which enemy base to target, rather than attributing this scoop to some unknown or subordinate bureaucrat, you would be much more likely to believe the information coming from President Washington, wouldn’t you?
Your humble servant,