Friday, January 18, 2013

Fishing For Red Herrings by W.S. Gager

Award-winning mystery author W.S. Gager has lived in Michigan for most of her life except when she was interviewing race car drivers or professional women golfers. She enjoyed the fast-paced life of a newspaper reporter until deciding to settle down and realized babies didn't adapt well to running down story details on deadline. Since then she honed her skills on other forms of writing before deciding to do what she always wanted with her life and that was to write mystery novels. Her main character is Mitch Malone who is an edgy crime-beat reporter always on the hunt for the next Pulitzer and won't let anyone stop him. Her third book, A Case of Hometown Blues, was a finalist in the 2012 Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. A Case of Volatile Deeds, her fourth in the Mitch series will be out this February.

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Wendy. It's great to have you visit us here on the seventh day of the Mystery We Write blog tour. Please tell us about "red herrings."

A red herring is a fake clue or misleading information that sets the sleuth off in a wrong direction. I thought when asked that this would be an easy thing to do. I’m struggling to take what I do naturally and analyze it to give a guide to someone else. How do I know I need a fake clue here? Or a real clue there? It is difficult to put into words and a slippery devil to explain.

I’m hoping by writing this, I will see some things that I can relate to in my speech. Red herrings are essential in mysteries because if you just gave important clues at every turn there would be no surprise at the end--No whodunit to unveil. It would be a simple how-to manual to solve a crime or mystery. It would be like doing a child’s dot-to-dot puzzle. The sleuth goes to murder scene and finds a clue which takes him to point B where he finds another clue which takes him to point C and so forth. As long as we followed along, we would know what happened without too much thought.
Luckily for readers, the red herring gives us more of a challenge.  Each bit of information has to be validated and determined if it is true or not. Nothing can be discarded at the beginning because some of the most telling clues are not realized until another piece of information is dropped in later in the book.
Was the diet Mountain Dew can left by the murderer or chucked from an anonymous passing vehicle? Was the murder weapon used by its owner or placed to blame someone else? Also the evidence has to make sense with the motives of the killer. Motives take time to develop.  No author can tell you everything about every character in the first chapter. No one would get beyond the first few pages of backstory. Bits and pieces of character need to be layered. They need to be shown through actions, how others react to them and with their own words and deeds.
It is more telling to a reader to show a potential murderer making nice at a party with all the important people then going into the kitchen and ripping a staff member a new rear for some insignificant infraction. This must be layered in so you can see Mr. Nice may have some anger issues and could kill. Then all the red herrings that were discarded line up to a solution.
When I write, the red herrings seem to drop in rather easily from trying to hide the real clues more subtly. It is like a magician who gets you to look at the hand in front so you don’t realize he is manipulating what is behind his back.  Then at the end of the book or the end of the trick, the magic words are said. “Abracadabra. “ It’s a mystery filled with red herrings.
P.S. Just in case you wanted to know, the presentation went off great. I had a scare crow play a murder victim and laid out all kinds of clues around her “body.” They did a little fishing in their brains and came up with what they thought the real clues were and what were the red herrings based on their story idea. They were much more creative than I. What can you come up with? What are some of your favorite red herrings?
Thanks, Wendy. 

You can learn more about W.S. Gager at her website: and her blog site:
The author will be giving away a single copy of each of the first three books in the Mitch Malone Mystery series: A Case of Infatuation, A Case of Accidental Intersection and A Case of Hometown Blues from comments made on her blog: or on her guest blogs from the Murder We Write Mystery Tour.

A Case of Hometown Blues buylink:


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

That was a great explanation red herrings. Also, red herrings often make someone look guilty who isn't. Love doing that. Great job, Wendy.

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post! The best part of reading a mystery novel is trying to figure out which clues are red herrings and which clues are actually valid clues.

M.M. Gornell said...

Wendy, you've hit on one of the most fun parts of story telling for me, clues, red herrings or otherwise-- that lead one way, but should and could lead another way, etc. Love those clue trails!

Wonderful post.


Rionna Morgan said...

I really enjoyed your post. I love writing in the clues and divert the reader. Sometimes they're my favorite part of my writing day! I just had a brainstorm for my current work in progress! Awesome. Thank you.

Yippee from Montana!

Joyce Lavene said...

Great post, wendy!

Earl Staggs said...

An excellent treatise on red herrings, Wendy. They're fun to do.

Larissa Reinhart said...

Great post, Wendy! I think Agatha Christie is the master of red herrings. Love your Mitch Malone character!

Jean Henry Mead said...

It was great having you visit today, Wendy. You made me take another look at red herrings.

WS Gager said...

Marilyn: You comment is so appropriate. I'm reading No Bells and everything is pointing at Benay and I know Gordon's instincts can't be wrong. Talk about a red herring the size of a whale. Problem is I can't figure out who is guilty. Now that is good writing.

WS Gager said...

Jean: Thank you so much for hosting me today. It was really a two-fold purpose in writing the blog and really helped my presentation.
Thanks, Wendy
W.S. Gager on Writing

WS Gager said...

Pat, Madeline, Rionna, Joyce, Earl and Larissa: Thank you guys so much for stopping by. I admit I played a little hooky today and did some Christmas decorating. I'm feeling very festive now.
W.S. Gager on Writing

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