From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Writing Suspense: Use of Red-Herrings

Definition of Red-Herring: a false lead, assumed outcome or obvious solution that a writer plants in a story to fool the audience from guessing the real outcome.

This technique introduces one or more suspects or sets up false possibilities to add more tension and conflict in the novel and, in the process, prolongs the suspense and confuses the reader. These suspects will have motive and opportunity to have committed the crime.

Secondary characters are often used as red herrings. Though they might have a legitimate goal in the plot, they can also be set up to mislead the reader to think they have a part in the criminal action. Remember, a Red-Herring must always have some kind of motivation and opportunity. Suspense has to do with anticipation and expectation which helps create anxiety and tension.

Examples of Red Herring Uses
  • Distracting the main character
  • Appearance of lending support but tendency to send momentum awry
  • Get in the way of resolution intentionally or not
  • Cause of new events though not always helpful towards solution
A word of caution, never place something in your story simply to mislead your reader. You must always have a reasonable explanation for your misdirection that will come to light or be explained later in the story. Furthermore, don't incorporate too many Red-Herrings, this will be overly frustrating to your reader. And lastly, there is a difference between misleading your reader and misleading your investigator. Readers enjoy following the crumb trail with the investigator, they are especially drawn in when they know something the investigator does not.
As with all things "Practice makes perfect". Pull out your favorite suspense or mystery author and examine what it is about their style that draws you in. Don't forget...enjoy your trip through a good book!

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