All About Red Herrings [Mystery Month]

A red herring is a term used in the mystery genre to throw the detective – or the reader – off the trail. It’s a fake clue to lure them into a false sense that they’re hot on the trail when they’re really now. Red herrings are a lot of fun for the reader and the writer alike. However, they’re not as easy to incorporate into the story as you’d think. So, here’s all about red herrings.

All About Red Herrings | Mystery Month | Mystery Writing | Mystery Genre | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

How Can Red Herrings Be Added To The Story?

Red herrings can be added into the story in a number of ways – through characters, places, evidence, or pretty much anything of importance in the story. How? Because no one knows the truth until the investigator deduces it all.

A place can be a red herring if the body is moved or it seems a crime took place in one spot but it turns out it happened somewhere else. Then, right from the start, the detective already has false information. This goes for the clues as well. Sometimes a clue can be interpreted wrong (for the better or worse).

An innocent character may seem suspicious and vice versa. So, in a way, pretty much everyone could be a red herring. Not to mention, if someone is framed – especially on purpose – that right there is a red herring.

Real And Fake Red Herrings

All red herrings are fake, though some are done on purpose. Like a person who is framed or an “accidental” clue left behind, red herrings can be done on purpose or not.

If a criminal is really that good or has an accomplice, they can purposefully leave certain clues behind, manipulate the crime scene, or frame someone else for the crime if their red herrings are that good enough to throw the reader and detective off the trail.

However, sometimes something can be mistaken as a clue when it’s really not. This is at the fault of the detective or whoever suggested it. They go on a wild goose chase following a hunch that never really mattered. In which case, that sort of red herring is more for the reader because the detective himself believes in the red herring on his own.

Why Are Red Herrings Important?

Red herrings are needed in a mystery for two reasons: one because it adds more tension and suspense and two because it’s a lot of fun.

Not only is it fun for the reader to figure out and possibly be duped by it, but its also fun for the writer to write and figure out themselves. The most important thing though is that it adds more tension and suspense to the story.

When it comes to mystery, you want your readers guessing and on the edge of their seat. It’s fun when you’re trying to solve a fictional crime and you keep flip-flopping between two did it and how.

Be Careful Using Red Herrings

Earlier I mentioned that red herrings can be just about anything – a person, place, or thing. However, you want to be sure you add it in accordingly and that it makes sense. The red herring needs to seemingly be part of the crime somehow and it must be believable to all. If someone was strangled and a bloodied ax is found at the scene and your detective seems to believe the ax had something to do with the murder, then your detective isn’t too bright.

Red herrings need to be woven into the story carefully so that they could really be clues despite having nothing to do with the crime itself.

Overall, red herrings are a lot of fun for the writer to figure out and craft into the story. If done well, the readers will enjoy it just as much.

Do you incorporate red herrings into any of your stories? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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How To Use Red Herrings To Your Advantage [Mystery Month]

Red herrings are fake clues that are left around – either by accident or on purpose – to through an investigator off the trail when solving a crime.

They’re a lot of fun to throw into your mystery novel to throw the readers off track as well. Or maybe they know the truth and they can get frustrated with the investigator when they get thrown off. Either way, they’re fun to write and can sometimes be used to keep the readers on their toes and turning the pages.

How to use red herrings to your advantage | Mystery Writing | Creative Writing | Crime | Thriller | Suspense | RachelPoli.com

What Can Red Herrings Be?

Anything that’s a noun can be a red herring – a people, place, or thing.

Sometimes criminals can leave an object as a “clue” such as a fake weapon. Or, they can murder someone in their home and move the body elsewhere making it seem like it took place somewhere else. That also allows them to sometimes change how the death occurred as well.

Red herrings can also be a person as the culprit can try to frame someone or they may have been a person at the wrong place in the wrong time.

Real Red Herrings and Fake Red Herrings

Of course, I just explained that red herrings are “fake” clues that drop throughout the story. So, how can you have a real one? What I mean is you can have a fake-fake clue or a real-fake clue. In other words, by accident or on purpose.

Real Red Herrings

A real red herring can be a fake clue left on purpose. This can typically be done by the culprit to throw the investigators off their trail. They might move the body after they’ve killed the victim to make it seem like the crime scene was a different spot. They may frame a different person for the crime. Some criminals are crafty, others are not.

Fake Red Herrings

This is an accidental red herring. A clue might be brought in due to lack of judgement or poor deducing skills on an investigator. They might think something about the crime scene is off when, in fact, it’s nothing at all.

How Can You Use This To Your Advantage?

This allows the culprit a little more time to get away. Do we want that? No. But does it add great tension? Yes. Although, it is okay to let the bad guy get away once in a while. Unfortunately, that happens in real life and it’ll really make your readers think.

Using real red herrings is a great way to throw your readers off along with the investigator in the story. It’ll make them think. The same goes for the fake red herrings, though depending on what kind of information you give to your readers, they may know the truth and will yelling at the book wishing the characters could hear them.

Red herrings add a little extra to the story. It really gets the tension high when the protagonist chases after a clue only for it to turn out to be nothing. It wasn’t their time and time is important – especially when you’re looking for a missing persons, for example.

Why Are Fake Clues Called Red Herrings?

I have no idea. If anyone knows the answer to that, please let me know. I’m curious.

Do you use red herrings often? How do you usually go about it? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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Red Herrings: How To Keep Your Readers Guessing [Mystery Month]

What’s your favorite part about reading a mystery novel?

You want to try to solve the case, right? You want to help the detective, telepathically communicate with the characters and figure things out, yes?

Yeah, me too. That’s why red herrings are so important because it allows the reader to not figure things out.

Or… You know, get them stuck for a little while.

Red Herrings: How To Keep Your Readers Guessing [Mystery Month]

What are Red Herrings?

Red herrings is a something that appears to be a clue, but it’s not. It’s fake and it’s just there to throw the characters off the hot trail. It allows the characters and readers alike to go in different directions as they frustratingly try to solve the mystery.

Red herrings can be in the form of anything:

1. An innocent character – An innocent bystander can have motive and reason to go about the crime allowing your detective to suspect him of being the culprit. Maybe this character is completely innocent or maybe he’s an accomplice, but no one knows he has a boss behind the scenes controlling everything. Or, maybe this character just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

2. A guilty character – Some characters are good at playing innocent or even playing the victim. Maybe the guilty party happened to get “caught,” but they already have a cover story made up and it’s believable. Maybe the detective overlooks the guilty character for a while because he believes the character is innocent.

3. Evidence – Evidence, or clues, can be found anywhere at anytime. If your culprit is smart, he’ll hide them well or not leave anything behind at all (or try not to). Not everything is straightforward so there will be clues that seem to have something to do with the case, but they actually don’t have anything to do with it at all.

Why do you need Red Herrings?

Red herrings perform two tasks for your novel:

  • They add tension and suspense
  • They make the mystery harder, keeping your readers guessing and wanting more

Your readers want to follow along with the case and help the protagonist solve the problem. Giving them red herrings allows the readers to really get invested.

They may feel frustrated that they still haven’t figured it out, maybe they’ll feel disappointed or confused. However, with each “failure” they’ll want more. They’ll say, “I can figure it out this time!”

How do you incorporate Red Herrings?

You add them in like you would with any other clues or characters. You, as the writer, have to pretend that they’re real evidence up until the big epiphany made by your detective.

But remember…

Each red herring must advance the plot somehow. They must have some sort of meaning.

For example, if the victim was stabbed with a knife, don’t throw a sharp object that resembles a knife just for the sake of the detective assuming that was the murder weapon. Instead, throw it in there and explain later that the victim was fighting in self-defense before they died. Later, when the culprit is found, he may have some slight injuries that were made recently tying the weapons together.

Red herrings are fun, but like the actual case itself, they do take some required thinking and careful placement.

How do you use red herrings in your mystery novels? What’s your favorite part about them? Let me know in the comments below!

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