Welcome to A Writer’s POV. If someone had told me that writing a novel would cause me to loose sleep, gain weight, snap at my husband, pull my hair out, (literally and figuratively) and kick the dog, if I had one, I never would have put pen to paper. But as they say, ignorance is bliss, and I plunged in and began writing my book with the naïve expectation that I’d be finished in a year. Needless to say, five years and seven drafts later, I’m still on my quest for the Holy Grail, a published novel. Although frustrating, I spent that time growing as a writer. Every rewrite, revision and critique taught me something. Every book I read or workshop I attended offered new insights and ways to improve my craft. My goal with this blog is to share with you what I've learned so far. To talk about issues that plague all writers, to talk about the nuts and bolts of writing. Despite the fact that it's all been said before, each of us has our own way of telling a story and hopefully you'll visit often for help, support or just for the fun of it to read the posts written from this writer's point of view.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Red Herring

 I laughed the first time I heard the term, red herring. It just sounded silly. I also, as a much younger person, laughed at the word, moot, for the same reason. And while I learned a valuable vocabulary lesson when I  discovered the meaning of a moot point those many years ago, I only recently discovered how important a red herring is to a novel.

There is no actual fish species as a red herring and there are several variations of the origin of the term. One source on the Internet explains that the distinctive smell of the cured herring (the curing process turns it red) was used to confuse hunting dogs or test their ability to stay on a scent. But in the literary sense a red herring is as essential to your plot as a protagonist and antagonist. It's a decoy. A false clue. And if used correctly to mislead, you can build suspense and create a puzzling mystery that will keep readers guessing until the clever detective reveals the murderer or villain at the end of your story.

As my own story developed, I sensed that I was giving too much away much too soon. It seemed so obvious who was behind the chaos I had created and I knew I had to do something. So I re-wrote several scenes to distract the reader from one character to another and threw in a couple more secondary characters to lead the reader in another direction discovering quite by accident that I had created a very necessary piece to the puzzle of the plot, a red herring.

So have fun with it. It's your world and like an omnipotent ruler you have power over the subjects in your novel. Make them work for you to create an unforgettable story and use the red herring to send your readers on the proverbial wild goose chase. And in the end you can smile with satisfaction as you imagine them saying, "Wow. I never thought he was the one."