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Monday, November 26, 2012

Food for Your Thoughts

How about a little mustard with your red herring? Not interested in playing around with your food? Have no fear, as long as you don’t swallow it—because it really doesn’t exist or, at least, it doesn’t matter, You see, for us mystery writers, or in my case, one who pens them in an on-again off-again fashion, red herrings are wild goose chases that are staged in our mysteries, diversions intended to draw the reader’s attention from the real problem or matter at hand. These red herrings can be in the form of people, incidents or other clues you think are linked to solving the mystery, when in fact, they have no real significance. The trick is mixing the false clues with the real ones.

Hitchcock was famous for using red herrings, especially a special one, a plot device knowm as the MacGuffin or McGuffin. A McGuffin something that drives the whole plot, or at least how you get into the story but is really irrelevant to the outcome. For instance, in Psycho, Janet Lee runs away with a suitcase of money, and you think the whole story will center around why she would sacrifice all for it and how she’ll get caught. In fact, you get into a half hour of the movie before, horrors, she’s murdered. Now what? So much for the money. It is never mentioned again. Her real purpose in the movie is to introduce the twisted horrors occurring at the motel and in the house beyond.

In my mysteries, I like to send the reader down multiple paths with regard to the person responsible for the murders and reason(s) behind them. Sometimes, even the obvious reason isn’t the reason at all. The mystery may not even be the most important thing in the story. For instance, in Coming to Climax, there are murders occurring and all seems to point to the hero being a target. There are akso multiple subplots happening all at once. But the real theme of the book is love lost and found again through insurmountable odds. In my latest novella, A Murder in Every Port, the murders are a backdrop to a much more important theme, is Roxie’s love invincible, or can a five-day cruise change the course of her future?

Next time you read a mystery, see if you can find all the red herrings the writer uses and can you tell who done it way before the end?
Bobbye Terry also writes as Daryn Cross when she pens fantasies--but under her real name she writes mysteries and romances. Her latest, The Shadow Knows, is in the Briny Bay Mystery Series. The fourth in the series, A Murder in Every Port, debuts in February.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Thanks, Terrye, for the post. I always try to throw in red herrings, but you gave me some new ideas.

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