“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.
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!