Wednesday, January 30, 2013

RED HERRINGS

 






“I have been in love with story all my life,” says Gayle Roper, the award winning author of more than forty-five books. “Give me a story with strong characters and a captivating plot, and I’m one happy reader. Or writer.”

Among Gayle’s awards are the prestigious Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, the Carol Award from American Christian Fiction Writers, two Inspirational Readers Choice Awards, and three HOLT Medallions. She has been a Christy finalist three times and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Reviewers Choice Award from Romantic Times Book Report.
 
For her work in training Christian writers Gayle has won special recognition from Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, St. Davids CWC, Florida CWC, and Greater Philadelphia CWC.  She lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. She enjoys reading, spending time at the family’s Canadian cottage, gardening, and eating out every time she can manage it.

 RED HERRINGS

One of the fun things about writing mysteries and suspense is putting the red herrings in place, those false clues that lead your reader in a wrong direction. One of the fun things about reading these books is distinguishing the red herrings from the real clues and feeling proud of yourself when you’re proven right.

The term red herring comes from the fox hunting world when the trainers readied the hounds for the hunt. First they trained the dogs to the fox’s scent. When the animals were competent here, the trainers would drag herrings, those little fish cured by salting and slow smoking to a dark brown color, thus “red”, across the trail to try and confuse the dogs. A hound was ready for the hunt when the scent of the fish didn’t distract him from the scent of the fox.

Today we use red herring for anything in the story that misleads the reader and sends her on a false trail. There are four major ways to create these false clues. We’ll look at one today and the others as my name rolls around in our rotation.

Clusters of things:

Red herrings can be found in clusters of items where the attention is focused on everything but the item that’s important. In the movie Charade Audrey Hepburn goes through her husband’s effects over and over again looking for clues to his death. Each of several items might reasonably lead to more clues.

Of course her life is in danger as she works her way through these items, and there is great confusion as people die and Cary Grant is suave but slippery and Walter Mattheu is more serious than usual. It isn’t until the end (of course) that she and those chasing her realize that the letter, one of the items the police had returned to her, isn’t the important thing. It’s not even the envelope. Spoiler alert: It’s the stamp.

A drawer’s contents, a woman’s purse, a man’s pockets, a car’s glove compartment, an address book, a call log, an email list—the beauty of a cluster is that the reader can’t determine at first glance what’s important and what isn’t.

Gordon dumped the victim’s purse on the kitchen table. A lipstick, a compact, a train schedule, a letter stamped but unaddressed, three pens for Dr. Henry Blauden, Chiropractor, a paperback mystery with a library date due note in it, a cell phone, reading glasses, a motel receipt, and no wallet. He stared at the items, looking for something, anything, that would tell him who she was and make sense of her senseless killing.

You could do a lot with several of these items though I suggest you not use the stamp since too many people have seen Charade. All the items will let our hero learn more about the victim, but only one will lead to her killer. What item do you pick? I’ll tell you mine later.

Win a copy of Caught in the Act and see if you can separate the red herrings from the real clues. Leave a comment, along with your contact information, and Caught in the Act could be yours!

             

38 comments:

  1. I have gained some new insigt, thank you.
    mistyred1968@yahoo.com

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  2. Thanks Gayle, this post is just what I needed for my current WIP. FYI - I love Charade!

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    1. Terri, Always glad to help the competition. (:

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  3. Perhaps the motel receipt might be a lead to the killer.
    Kaye Whitney
    kayewhitney@bellsouth.net

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    1. Write the story with the receipt the crucial thing, Kaye. Not my choice.

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  4. I love theses type books please enter me for the drawing
    Shirley Blanchard
    jcisforme@aol.com

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  5. Red herrings add spice to books,but I am not very good at sifting them out of the clues. Still suspence books are fun to read.
    Martha T.
    CRPrairie1atimonmail.com

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    1. Just so at the end of the book you can look back and say, "Ah the clues were there all along. I just didn't see them."

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  6. I love to ready mysteries that have twists and turns in them.Looks like an exciting book. Interesting post too about red herrings..thank you
    donitacorman@yahoo.com

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  7. This looks like such a great book! Thanks! makeighleekyleigh at yahoo.com

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  8. Caught in the Act, sounds very mysterious.
    I'd like to be a winner.
    Carolyn Jefferson
    carolynj63@att.net

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    1. It's one of my favorites of my books. I love the heroine.

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  9. I love the puzzle of mysteries and suspense! I'd say the motel receipt and the library book could lead to knowing who the victim is. And, as Hercule Poirot would say, if you know the victim then you will soon know the murderer. Or something like that!
    I find all of these blog posts so helpful to my own writing. Thanks to all of you. :)

    Pen
    pmettert at yahoo dot com

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    1. There was a real life murder solved in our area by the library book because it wasn't taken out in the victim's name but the murderer's.

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  10. I have loved every one of your books that I have read. Would love to read this one too. Thanks inspiremichelle@yahoo.com

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    1. Michelle, the whole 4 book Caught series is among my favorites because i love the heroine, Merry Kramer.

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  11. This sounds like a good book. Thanks!
    superstarsarah94(at)gmail(dot)com

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  12. I like reading books with red herrings thrown in because it is more fun not to solve the mystery before it is revealed. To answer your question, I think perhaps the motel receipt could be what leads to the solution. Thanks for a chance to win a copy of your new book.

    pmk56[at]sbcglobal[dot]net

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    1. The hotel receipt could make a great clue to solve the mystery, Pam, but not my choice. You can write this one.

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  13. I think the train schedule might lead down the track, around a few curves to the exact time to clear her friend & solve the murder.

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    1. Bobbe, go with the train schedule and write that one. Not my choice so it's all yours.

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  14. Hmmm If it actually a letter, and not just an envelope, that is where I would start, otherwise the cell phone to see who she was, who she called, possibly appointments. You are one of the few authors whose books I keep to share and get back to re-read.

    By the way I recently won a debut mystery To See the Sun by Peggy Blann Phifer. I was unable to guess who did it, and I'm thinking she may someday be a candidate to join the Suspense Sisters!

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    1. Hey, Delores, always good to hear from you. The cell phone should definitely lead to her identification if not the murderer. Not my choice though. So glad Peggy kept you guessing!

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  15. I think the clue is found in the unopened, unaddressed letter. 2nd choice would be her cell phone. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Great possibilities in both these things, Maxie, but you'll have to write the letter book. It's not my choice.

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  16. Hi, Gayle, I'm thinking about a mystery for my next novel, so thanks for the advice and I'll be back! I'd love to read Caught in the Act. The train schedule and the motel receipt sound most suggestive to me. You can reach me at kbhyde(at)kbhyde(dot)com if I win!

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    1. Katherine, both the receipt and the schedule would make good real clues, but not my choice. You'll have to take these clues on, maybe in your next novel.

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  17. Oooh! Fun post. I love the lipstick herring: maybe not really her color, or on something of the victim's. Or it could be the eyeglasses when she doesn't even wear them. Why does she have them? Or if want to get more serious, the pens: what if one of them isn't even a pen but the murder weapon?

    Thanks! browncarole212(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. You've got the imagination to go with the clues you picked, Caroline. Go for it!

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  18. I love red herrings in mysteries, and am always trying to guess which is the real clue. My guess would be the library book. Thanks!
    Linda R.
    linlee822@gmail.com

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    1. You guessed what I'd use, Linda. As I mentioned in a reply above, it was the clue that helped local police solve a real murder in our area a few years ago. It was taken out of the library in the murderer's name, not the victim's.

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  19. I like the title. I had heard of the origin of red herrings before. It also makes me think of Hitchcock's MacGuffin.

    catbooks@rocketmail.com

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    1. The difference between a red herring and a MacGuffin is that the red herring has to have a logical fit in the story. It's just misleading as to the solving of the crime. A MacGuffin has nothing to do with anything even though everyone is interested in it. MacGuffins are abstract while red herrings are concrete. They exist.

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