Friday, July 23, 2010

Part IV Suspense - Red Herrings

Red herring is a literary term to describe an author’s method of diverting the reader from the truth or a meaningful item. In suspense or mystery fiction, this is done by making an innocent character seem suspicious and thus drawing away attention from the true guilty party. This technique introduces one or more suspects or sets up false possibilities to add more tension and conflict in the novel and, in the process, prolongs the suspense and confuses the reader. These suspects will have motive and opportunity to have committed the crime.

The pattern with red herrings begin with a first distraction or character looking suspicious. Then additional red herrings can be added as one is resolved or found to be a dead end. Just as with conflicts, once a conflict is resolved a new conflict worse than the last shows up on the character’s doorstep. In the same way, a red herring (a suspect or a false clue) is introduced and once cleared or pronounced innocent or meaningless, another red herring can appear, and this one should seem even more likely to be the villain.

Secondary characters are often used as red herrings. Though they might have a legitimate goal in the plot, they can also be set up ti mislead the reader to think they have a part in the criminal action. Secondary characters can be red herrings by:

• Distracting the main character

• Appearing to lend support but things go awry

• Getting in the way

• Causing things to happen that are not always helpful

• and remember, they should have a motive of some kind and opportunity.

Secondary characters serving as red herrings are usually introduced early in the story, often by chapter 3. They may not appear immediately, but they are talked about which provides a foreshadowing that they have a purpose in the novel. It alerts the reader to look for the character, and while they wait, they anticipate how this character might be part of the crime or solving the crime. Suspense has to do with anticipation and expectation which helps create anxiety and tension.

When the pacing slows and a lull occurs in the action, the main character: in this case, Kyle, a police officer and the stories hero reviews the suspects. From A Love for Safekeeping

Then he pried names from his mind. Celia, Len, Malik, Keys. Anyone else? The principal came to mind. Skylar? He seemed far-fetched, but Kyle shrugged and added the name to his list. Somewhere in his mind other phantom characters jogged through his memory, but he couldn’t put a name to the faceless people. He’d have to ask Jane.

As you plot your suspense novel, don’t forget to include red herrings as a plotting technique to keep the story interesting with tension and to give the readers things to worry about.
Next:  Suspense: The First Sentences

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