R – Red Herring

My A to Z Challenge theme is teaching you how not to write a book, or a short story, or any piece of creative writing whatsoever. For more information, including links to previous chapters and lessons, please refer to this post. Now buckle in and proceed with…



Billionaire Highlander cowboy Hawk MacHardcastle is tired of living the jetset life of champagne, bucking broncos, kilts, fast cars, and burning bundles of cash for warmth. Desperate to find meaning in his life, he retires to his family’s isolated cabin in the wilds of New Jersey, on the shores of majestic Lake Latrine.

There, Hawk plans on self-reflection and pursuing the great love of his life—fishing. However, Hawk’s self-imposed loneliness comes to an end when he makes a most unusual companion and fishing buddy.

Dropsy Velvet was once a young woman living on the shores of Lake Latrine with her settler family. However, a curse turned her into a mermaid and now she lives, sad and alone, in the depths of the lake. She hasn’t had human contact for close to fifty years, thanks to everyone either being terrified of her or thinking they’re drunk when they see her—but Hawk may be the connection to the world she’s been craving. Charmed by her innocent face, sparkling wit, and huge bare breasts, Hawk decides to help her find a way to lift the curse, as she will lift his: the curse of ennui and affluenza. But time is running out, for something sinister wants to flush Latrine away forever.

Red Herring

Hawk carried Dropsy to the lake and gently placed her in the water. She seemed delirious and he worried for her, so he went into the lake as well and held her, so she wouldn’t drown. “Oh, my beautiful darling.” He stroked her hair. “I’m so sorry. I should have known better. I should have remembered what happens when you boil a fish.”

Just then, a motorboat buzzed by. An old man sat in it and he peered at them with an evil glint in his beady eyes. The wake from his boat washed over them and Hawk bristled. Was this man in league with the old lady? Was he spying on them for her?

“You’re all gonna die!” the old man hollered as he sped away.

“Don’t worry,” Dropsy said weakly, “that’s just Crazy Pete. He sails around the lake telling people they’re gonna die.”

But, was that the truth? Or was she delirious with heat stroke? Was the man really harmless?


A ‘red herring’ is a literary device the author uses to create misdirection and make the reader believe one thing, in the hopes that when they reach the conclusion the reveal will be a surprise. This gets used a lot in mystery and detective novels, as well as suspense. It’s meant to distract the reader and lead them down the wrong path, to have them suspecting the wrong person only to find out the true villain is someone else. It can be a good thing, because a lot of readers like to have that awesome moment of realization, to slap their forehead and say “how didn’t I see that?”

However, this device must be used correctly. Being too heavy-handed about it ruins the effect. Also, while you’re leading the reader to believe one thing, the truth must also be encoded between the lines. You can’t lead someone to believe one person is the murderer while the real murderer is a janitor who only had one mention in the first chapter and was never seen again. The ‘big’ clues seem to point to the innocent person, but there must be little clues about the real murderer, too. So this is a literary device you should only use if you can pull it off with finesse and have your readers saying “wow!” at the end and not “hey wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense.”

Crazy Pete never killed anyone. He’s just telling the truth—we ARE all gonna die.

Author: Megan Morgan

Paranormal and contemporary romance author.

12 thoughts

  1. I think the red herring needs to also lead the characters astray, and should be so real as to make the author consider the very real possibility that the red herring is behind whatever is going on. If it isn’t convincing enough that you could, at one point, alter the direction and have the red herring be truly guilty, then it probably isn’t a good red herring.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good old Crazy Pete. He knows the way of things. 🙂 As to your once mentioned janitor, yes, nothing drives me nuts more when reading a book than an illogical reveal at the end.


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