Friday, May 20, 2011

Literary Device : The Red Herring


 I had heard about the Red Herring many times. And for once a Literary Device/Technique did not confuse me. After I read about it, I easily understood the Red Herring  and its meaning and significance.

As we all know, a Red Herring is an idiomatic term/expression that refers to the technique in fiction, of diverting attention away from an item of significance. It’s also called a smoke screen or a wild goose chase.

 My personal belief is that the technique of a Red Herring is  more effective in mystery fiction, where to take away attention from the real criminal, an innocent person may be deliberately  cast  in a guilty light by the author, through the cunning use of  false emphasis, deceptive clues  that completely mislead a reader, and  also through the usage of loaded words, or over emphasis of certain objects or people. Its like laying a false trail of bread crumbs.

 This is done to misguide the reader, so that the real culprit enjoys freedom  from suspicion. And ultimately when the real culprit is caught, the reader is taken completely unaware and is shocked beyond expectation. It’s said that some writers even create a false protagonist to misguide readers.

For me Snape in the Potter series was a great example of a Red Herring. I  always thought Snape was on Voldemort’s side, but the last book revealed that Snape was Dumbledore’s man and was secretly on Harry’s side.

 As for me, though I have adopted the Red Herring as a tool in my story, I am not sure how successful I have been or how effective it is. Have any of you used the Red Herring in your stories? Does any  example of a Red Herring come to mind?






27 comments:

  1. Great post! There is always something new I learn from you, Rachna. Thanks for explaining so well and giving such a clear example.

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  2. Had never heard of The Red Herring. Thanks for the post. Its very informative.

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  3. I LOVE Snape. I never thought he was the villain Harry believed him to be, but it was clear Snape had AN agenda and Rowlings did a wonderful job not revealing it. Snape was one of my favorite characters in the series and he's pivotal. And on a slight side note, I can't imagine anyone doing a better job of playing the character than Alan Rickman, who is marvelous. The play of emotions that are not-quite-there-but-you-know-what-he's-feeling-if-you-know-the-book is ASTONISHING. The man deserves an Oscar. I seriously hope he's nominated this time.

    I don't have any Red Herrings in my stories and I'm not sure I could carry it off well. I guess it's a good thing I've never needed to. You're right, they usually appear in mysteries, which I don't write, so I may be safe. LOL

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  4. I have no red herrings in my own writing but I love it when they are used brilliantly. I think it's the mark of some very clever writing. Maybe one day I'll complicate a plot enough! Good post, thank you.

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  5. I remember coming across lots of Red Herrings but I swear I can't think of any right now. I don't read a lot of mysteries but I can see how they're important to those plots.
    Great post!

    p.s. You're welcome on the slice of cake. I had a slice also...maybe more than one...

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  6. Love this post. Poor Snape seems more of a stern, black herring! My red herring is in the way people view my MC's. They start by feeling sorry for the 1st character until her relationship with her husband develops and you begin to see how their personalities are quite the opposite. I hope this will come across effectively, as you said you also wish with your WIP. :O)

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  7. Oh no! I hadn't read the last book yet:) Oh well, I would have found out in the movie wither way and I must say this makes me very happy!
    Nice way to describe the Red Herring...I've been a victim of those clutches many times as I read:)

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  8. Rachna,
    i think it's a useful article about red herring---for all writers and readers.....nice discription.
    Hemant

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  9. Red herrings give perfect twists to stories and even movies. Jeffery Archer's 12 red herrings come to mind. Agatha Christie mysteries were quite good too; you always had the son or servant who acts so suspect..

    Have you written any story with a red herring? Wont mind reading :)

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  10. Your example of Snape as a red herring is perfect. JK kept us in suspense all through seven books. We were strongly led to believe he was on the wrong side, but given reasons to doubt that. Cleverly done.

    I'm not particularly practiced at using red herrings in my writing, and in my wip, Margo pointed out to me that I had one I didn't realise was there. It's an art I shall develop :-) Thanks for an interesting topic.

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  11. I haven't read all of the Potter series, although I certainly enjoyed and admired the first book. Since they are so big and thick, I plan to set aside a long reading time in the future and work my way through them.

    I did use a red herring in my mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls. It was fun to do, too. I think I even fooled Imogene. It makes a mystery more interesting to write, I think, using this tool.

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  12. I've GOT to read Harry Potter. My daughter has read all of them. Well, not all of the last one. She said it was too dark. But I am just out of touch if I don't read Harry (I did see the movies, though). I, too, loved Snapes. And he WAS a red herring. I think, though, as you say, it's more effective for murder mysteries. So since I've never written one, I haven't used the technique. But it's a good one.

    Thanks for stopping by and congratulating me on my book launch. You're a sweetheart!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

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  13. I think even non-mysteries can benefit from red herrings - or at least stories that have some type of mysterious component. Great post, Rachna. i'm sure your red herring is working wonderfully.

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  15. No, I don't think I've entirely used the "red hering" in my writing. I do a lot of "leading the reader" through a concept. Throughout the reading, and expecially towards the end, the reader will take a stand on the plot topic. The reader's conclusions doesn't matter; what is important is that they have a moral opinion, and can justify the sentiment in their own mind. The reader's world view has a lot to do with my writing concepts.

    Anne Best: be careful with the Harry Potter final novel. There's some voice and character changes that can mislead the reader. She (JK) ties to return to the YA voice in the last book, and to me it is incongruent with previous novels. Doesn't get there entirely for me; but, still an excellent read.

    .........dhole

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  16. I've never used a red herring but thank you for the comphrensive explanation. Another post I'll be bookmarking!

    Ellie Garratt

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  17. Interesting post. In fact, an interesting and unusual blog.

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  18. I get suspicious in a story if the blame is pointing so obviously to one person. So, red herrings have to be subtle to work well. Great post!

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  19. I've never used a red herring in my stories. I agree that it seems to be most effective in mysteries. I used to read a lot of Mary Higgins Clark's books. Can't think of an example off hand, but I'm sure she's used a herring or two in her writings :-)

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  20. I've come across red herrings in mystery novels and movies. But I'm not able to recall the names right off. Our Hindi movies make a mess of the use of red herrings...they start off well and then can't hold out for long, except for a coupleof good ones which put my guesses way out. Nice article.

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  21. A few red herrings tossed into the mix give a mystery those enchanting twists and turns, Rachna. If you carve out a straight path from problem to solution, what fun is that for the reader? A red herring will ensure that NOT all of the readers solve the mystery and that is the fun for writer and reader.

    I use foreshadowing more. It's the glue that holds the book together for me, anyway. Not a lot of MG readers will even realize it, but it does make their reading experience a lot more fun. :-)

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  22. use them all the time, along with a twist ending... no point in telegraphing your tale....

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  23. btw- if you want excellent, free guidance, check out my link to alexandra sokoloff in my sidebar... she's a published author and screenwriter

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  24. I write aphorisms. The art of the aphorism often involves using a red herring, wherein the first half of the sentence belies the twist or point about to be made in the second. It's a device Oscar Wilde used to perfection.

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  25. I do this too and I always wonder if I'm ticking off my readers. I want them to trust me as the author and I wonder if this detracts from that.

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  26. Snape is such a cool character.
    I've not used a red herring in my writing yet. It's something to keep in mind though.

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