Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Write Away: R is for Red Herring and Reveal Clues

A shorter one today, lucky you! I couldn’t do mystery terms without Red Herrings, but I already did write about these misleading clues on another one of my blogs. Here’s the link to the post on red herrings.    

Red Herrings, in a nutshell, are clues strewn throughout the mystery as distracters, clues meant to take you down one road so you don’t figure out the mystery too early. The author figures out the red herrings after coming up with a list of potential perpetrators. For each one, the author has to figure out red herrings and then what information will be revealed clearing each one.

For example, the gardener has access to the house when he’s not supposed to be there. It turns out that he has a strong motivation to commit the crime because he needs the money for a daughter’s operation. He can’t account for his movements because he is hiding information about meeting with his brother who is secretly attending AA meetings. All of these red herrings cause the police to consider the gardener as a suspect. Of course, because they are red herrings and not the actual clues needed to solve the mystery, the author has to counter each red herring so the wrong person is not convicted.

Reveal Clues is what the mystery writer does. Some are red herrings and some are factual. Some of the factual clues don’t make sense until put with other clues. It is the creation of clues and the revelation of clues that makes mystery writing so much more difficult (for me, anyway) than any other genre I write.

Surely there are twists and turns and plot pinch points and denouement and all that other stuff in romance and historical fiction and women’s fiction. But the amount of deception the author must create with false and actual clues (twists and turns) is in high gear for mystery and crime fiction.

Keeping track of all the clues, red herrings and otherwise, revealing them at the appropriate points, and ensuring that the mystery has internal integrity with that set of clues revealed in that order is a honking big deal!

What will Frieda’s reaction be in “The List”?

            Rising to her feet, she smoothed her pantsuit. “You realize my attorney won’t be fooled by this little ploy to buy your way out of alimony, don’t you? Once I get her name, I’ll clean your clock, Mort!”
            “I already had my guy do some talking with your guy. They’re workin’ out the details now. And there isn’t a ‘her’ to get, or at least not a special ‘her’. I tried that a few times. I can’t handle the pressure of the cover-up. Nah. I’m just tired of sharing space with you, Frieda. I’m gonna smoke my cigars and put my sweaty socks up on the white velvet upholstery and spill beer on the Berber. Just me. No more nagging for you to do. No more nagging for me to listen to.”


  1. Hi there - Frankly I get annoyed when reading and there are too many red herrings. I just read one like this. :(
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal - Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

  2. It is so tricky to know how many and when. I agree, sometimes authors get too caught up in being cute and/or deceptive and lose track that they are telling a story people should be able to follow along with and solve with or even a little ahead of the sleuth. Readers like that, yes?