The Puzzle of the Red Herrings

I love crime fiction and crime dramas. But aside from the action-filled plots and intriguing characters, there’s always moment where the writer(s) always seem to trick us…

But the question in particular is: what’s the difference between a red herring, and a general put-down for the reader?

With the book I’m writing now, I can’t help but think about how red herrings can be pulled off. So, rather than guess ways to write a red herring, let’s imagine it from the reader’s perspective.

Red herrings themselves, when revealed, need to have a particular response by the reader to make them continue and not become disappointed or confused with the revelation. From what many writers have given in advice, is that the information needs to be there, but ignored by the reader.

It is this which creates that “kick yourself” feeling when the reader notices that the information was right in front of them, but they chose to ignore it. This can also work for shocking moments and plot twists, as well as red herrings.

So, using this to aid fellow writers out there… The information needs to be there, but hidden. The ignorance of this information is equally important. As a reader, they will obviously remember every information detailed. The cunning thing about red herrings is that they convince the reader to disregard what they already remember. Only later on do they realise that it was that one, ignored piece of information that solves the puzzle of the red herring.

It’s tricky, but I hope this helps!

Liam

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