Red Herrings

This article is part of the Rolling Mystery Blog Tours Ink rolling tour for Wednesday. Other bloggers who participated in this roll are listed at the bottom of this page, past the article.  Nancy Lauzon started off today on the subject of Red Herrings. Her article can be found at If you haven’t already visited her site, please take the time out today to stop by and take a look.

And now, on to my article: Red Herrings 

Readers of mystery know all about red herrings. They understand the concept of giving clues that lead nowhere to the reader. It happens in every mystery. What readers may  not understand is how hard that is for the writer.

As writers, we have to figure out the plot of the mystery, create the perfect characters, and then put the plot together in such a way that the reader doesn’t really know for sure what  happened, or who did it, or why, or where something is hidden, etc. So we have to create viable suspects, alternate stories that may or may not have happened, or whole sets of goals and motivations for characters who are innocent, or at least not guilty of what they are suspected of.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to figure out enough of the plot to know what the mystery is, who the victim is, who the killer is, and why. Then I create a few more people who have their own reasons for wanting the victim dead. They need two of the three vital parts of the crime: means, motive, and opportunity. Then when I write about these characters, I don’t reveal which of those three things they have, not until the last hundred or so pages, when I start eliminating suspects.

If you’re writing mysteries, remember that the red herrings are what the reader is looking for. They know there will be clues that go nowhere, and readers who love mysteries get pretty good at figuring out the truth before you want them to. If it’s too easy, they will not be interested in your next book. And ditto, if it’s too hard. You have to strike a nice medium.

If your work isn’t too graphic, try having a twelve-year-old read along with your beta readers, or before them. Then give it to your most critical reader and see how that goes. If the twelve-year-old figures it out half way through, you’re in trouble. If the critical reader can’t figure it out, you might need to through in a clue or two. The best learning device is the reading of mysteries. There is no better way to see how it’s done, than to see how it’s done.

Our roll today consists only of Nancy Lauzon and I as our partners are dealing with real life and deadlines. But hopefully several of our partners will return Friday when the new roll will start at Nancy Lauzon’s blog at                                   with the subject of Favorite Mystery Movies and Why?

2 comments on “Red Herrings

  1. […] Islington – Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintStumbleUponLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Great post, Ryder! I always find striking a good balance with red herrings a challenge, but hopefully it’s worth it in the end.


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