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Fooled Ya!

Banes at 12:00AM, April 4, 2024

Here we are - Thursday again! I tells ya, the weeks and months just FLY by.

It was April Fool's Day the other day, and I was thinking about stories, and how sometimes books, TV shows, movies, or whatever will try and FOOL us. Like, the entire story is a deception in some way, building up to a shocking revelation.

This can take many forms - the unreliable narrator turns out to be unreliable, or there's some kind of virtual reality or illusion taking place…or the classic “it was all a dream”.

There are examples I'm thinking of for all of those possible “Fooled Ya” story structures, but it's obviously way into spoiler territory to talk about it.

Does this kind of thing work? Is it legitimate?

Well, there are a couple of classic movies that use it, and those movies hold up under rewatch (which is quite interesting!)

Again, I won't go into the titles so as not to ruin anything. I guess overall, for me this approach is NOT a good one for most stories, or most writers. I mean, a short story, or maybe a single issue of a comic can get away with it. With a longer story, there's a huge risk of annoying the audience.

Granted, if the journey was worthwhile in some way other than the main plot, or whatever turns out to be deceptive, then it can work! And it can work really well in some cases!

Have you ever used a “fooled ya” plot structure in your stuff?

Hey, the Dream Anthology project is still taking shape, and you can submit a cover design!
Check it out in the Duck forums here:

See you next time!

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PaulEberhardt at 6:50AM, April 5, 2024

I would never recommend "it was all a dream" as an ending either. I'll still say it can be put to good use as a build-up, as a way of reflecting something that happened, a glimpse into an alternative timeline and suchlike. That it should have a function in a plot, adding to it meaningfully, goes without saying. Everything should. Also audiences aren't stupid and don't like being cheated, so it also goes without saying that any trope an author misuses as an easy way out will crash and burn, not just this dream one. Building a whole story on a "fooled ya" moment indeed needs a much more creative surprise than "it was all a dream". It'd be what I called an anticlimactic ending by accident the other day, i.e. a crappy one. It's a different thing if you use it in a gag or as a lead-in for a scene: create a momentarily unsettling WTF effect, resolve it before it gets annoying "it was just a dream, ha ha!" and on with the actual show. That's what I call inviting your audience to a game.

bravo1102 at 1:20AM, April 5, 2024

Have to agree, a lot of time the "It's all a dream" seems like an admission by the author that they screwed up and want to reset. As for unreliable narrators, I'm not good enough to pull that off.

dragonsong12 at 7:14PM, April 4, 2024

I'm in the "not a fan" camp for the most part. If done poorly (and it often is) it can make the reader/viewer feel like nothing mattered and so their time was wasted. BUT I also don't like the idea of anything being entirely off the table in art. I like to subscribe to the thought that there are no bad ideas, just bad execution - anything can be made to work if done right. In fact one of my favorite pieces of fiction uses a variation on the dreaded "dream" ending (which I do specifically hate for the reason I stated above) but in this case it was done in a way where the "dream" parts DID actually matter, so I wasn't left dissatisfied. I also actually kind of like unreliable narrators because to me that's more a character thing - and I will sacrifice plot for characterization any day of the week.

Ozoneocean at 6:23PM, April 4, 2024

I generally think it's not cool.

KAM at 12:57PM, April 4, 2024

I recently used the "It's just a dream" in the last Penguins cartoon, and then remembered it wasn't the first time. Still the first and most recent used surreal imagery to let the reader know something wasn't right, so the dream reveal wasn't out of left field.

KAM at 12:54PM, April 4, 2024

Readers today may not realize that the twist in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was shocking because it was the first to use that particular trope. And I believe her fellow writers were annoyed because she had violated an unwritten rule between writers and readers, and would open the floodgates to other writers using it (which they did). Still it's Agatha Christie so even if I had mentioned what the trope was it would still be a good read.

bravo1102 at 1:58AM, April 4, 2024

I did the "it's just a dream". It was done to lessen the impact of the sheer inhumanity and utter darkness of the storyline and fate of the characters. But the dream was a hyperbolic reflection of the life the dreamer actually lived. The story had a running commentary since it was a movie with breaks for reactions from cast members, the director and producer to further lessen the utter bleakness of the narrative. A lot of times that's what the "it's all a dream" ending is for. To relieve the starkness of the story and it's outcome with "oh it really didn't happen" *whew*

PaulEberhardt at 1:18AM, April 4, 2024

Lots of times, in a way, as a lot seems to be going on in my character's dreams and imagination, but I don't count most of them as they're often a convenient vehicle to change the scene to something completely different rather than meant to be genuinely surprising. Still, I love good surprises, and readers' expectations are made for being played with. Imho it's actually something you can do many times over and it won't ever get old. However, you need to know exactly what you're doing. I've seen these moments ruined too often, either because the author gave away too much in the build-up, or the whole idea wasn't all that original, or the surprise itself just doesn't pack the punch they expected. If you play with readers' expectations, always make sure that it comes across as inviting them to a game. An anticlimactic ending needs to be so on purpose. If it's anticlimactic because the author misjudged the impact of the high point or is bad at pacing, it'll be just a shitty ending.

InkyMoondrop at 12:26AM, April 4, 2024

Since I rely heavily on plot twists, I like to explore my possibilities, sometimes I lead people with unreliable narrators / false identities or play with illusion a bit. I like to reuse some of the stuff to keep it consistent, but make sure to always throw in more or an extra twist somewhere. Since my demon characters can shapeshift and there are possibilities to induce dreams or control someone's mind and since I have over a 100 characters in Blessed Days by now, counting the one-liner extras as well, it can really elevate things, especially if a manipulator is against a similar foe and they get to play out a little cat and mouse.

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