bibisco Novel Writing Software


Red Herring Narrative Technique | What is a Red Herring

Do you know the Red Herring narrative technique? Maybe not. However, you may have frequently come across this Red Herring in books or films.

The term “red herring” may evoke thoughts of a fishy delicacy, but it holds a completely different meaning in storytelling.

In this article, we will dive deep into the world of Red Herrings, exploring their meaning, purpose, and impact on our reading and viewing experiences.

Red Herring meaning

Let’s first define Red Herring. A Red Herring is a narrative technique that involves the introduction of a seemingly important element, character, or plot point that later turns out to be misleading, diverting the audience’s attention from the true direction of the story. It is a clever tool for storytellers to create suspense and surprise and keep their audiences guessing.

The term “red herring” was popularized in 1807 by the English polemicist William Cobbett. The term originated from the English hunters’ practice of using smoked herrings with a strong and distinct odor to divert hunting dogs from the scent of the real prey.

Similarly, a Red Herring is strategically placed in storytelling to divert the audience’s attention from the main plot or central mystery. It creates a detour, leading the audience down a false path and leaving them surprised when the truth is ultimately revealed. For example, in a mystery book, an innocent person is presented as guilty, using wrong clues and ambiguous words.


What is a Red Herring?

A Red Herring, is a storytelling device or plot element that is intentionally introduced to mislead or distract the audience or characters from the real issues or clues in a narrative. It creates a false trail or diversion, often adding suspense and mystery to the story by leading characters and audiences down the wrong path.

The purpose and effects of using Red Herrings

The primary purpose of employing Red Herrings in storytelling is to create suspense and surprise and engage the audience. By diverting attention away from the true direction of the story, Red Herring keeps the audience constantly guessing and theorizing. This heightens the entertainment value and allows for a more immersive and engaging experience.

Red Herrings also serve as a valuable tool for storytellers to maintain tension and control the pacing of their narrative. By introducing false leads and misdirection, they can prolong the suspense and delay the climax. This ensures the audience remains invested in the story until the end.

Moreover, Red Herrings allow storytellers to explore complex themes and ideas by introducing layers of intrigue and mystery. They provide an opportunity to delve into the human psyche, examine the nature of truth and deception, and question our biases and assumptions.

Common misconceptions about Red Herrings

Despite their artistic value, Red Herrings are not without their fair share of misconceptions.

One common misconception is that Red Herrings are mere plot devices used solely for deception. While deception is a key element, Red Herrings also serve a higher purpose in storytelling. They enhance suspense, create tension, and provide unexpected plot twists.

Another misconception is that Red Herrings are always irrelevant to the story. While it is true that Red Herrings often lead to dead ends, they are not inherently insignificant. They can provide valuable insights into the characters, their motivations, and the story’s overall themes, even if they don’t directly contribute to the main plot.

The last misconception is that Red Herrings are only found in mystery or detective genres. While it is true that Red Herrings are prevalent in these genres due to their inherent connection to suspense and misdirection, they can be found in a wide range of narratives. From romantic comedies to epic fantasies, Red Herrings can be employed to surprise and challenge the audience’s expectations, regardless of the genre.

Techniques for using Red Herrings Effectively in writing

Mastering the art of using Red Herrings effectively requires careful consideration and skillful execution. Here are some techniques that can enhance the impact of Red Herrings in your writing:

  1. Establish a foundation of believability. Before introducing a Red Herring, it is crucial to establish a solid foundation of believability. The false lead should be plausible and appear relevant to the story. This ensures that the audience experiences a sense of surprise and satisfaction when the true solution is revealed.
  2. Misdirection through character development. Characters can be powerful tools in creating Red Herrings. By developing suspicious or enigmatic characters, writers can divert the audience’s attention and create doubt about their true intentions. Skillful characterization can make the audience question the motives and actions of various characters, deepening the mystery.
  3. Subtle clues and foreshadowing: Even though Red Herrings’ purpose is misleading, they should not be entirely disconnected from the story. Introducing subtle clues and foreshadowing related to the true solution can add complexity and make the Red Herring more believable. This technique ensures that argute readers can potentially uncover the truth while still being captivated by the misdirection.

Red Herrings vs. other narrative techniques

While Red Herrings are a powerful narrative technique, they are not the only tool in a writer’s arsenal. Understanding the distinctions between Red Herrings and other similar narrative techniques is essential to employ them effectively.

One such technique is the Chekhov’s Gun. Unlike a Red Herring, Chekhov’s Gun is a narrative principle stating that every element a story introduces must have a purpose. If a seemingly irrelevant detail is mentioned, it must eventually become significant or impact the story. In contrast, a Red Herring intentionally misleads the audience, leading them away from the true solution.

Another technique often compared to Red Herrings is the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is an object, goal, or device that drives the plot forward, but its specific nature is often unimportant. Unlike a Red Herring, a MacGuffin may not necessarily mislead the audience. It catalyzes the story while the true focus lies elsewhere.

Examples in literature and film

Let’s explore a few notable examples of Red Herrings in literature and film.

One classic example of a Red Herring is Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Throughout the story, the readers are led to believe that the supernatural hound is the main antagonist. But they discovered it was a carefully crafted ruse to hide a more earthly motive.

Agatha Christie‘s books often use a Red Herring to distract the reader from the real culprit.
In “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” the two main characters seem to hate each other. But this turns out to be a way of hiding the fact that they have conspired to kill someone.

In cinema, we can find this element in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, where characters and things are anything but what the viewer expects them to be.

One of the most modern examples of Red Herring found in books and, consequently, in films is Harry Potter, particularly about the character of Snape. It is only at the end of the Harry Potter saga that we learn that Snape has been doing nothing but trying to watch over Harry, protecting him on more than one occasion.

From the tip of his wand emerged the silver doe: it landed on the office floor, made a leap and dived out of the window. Dumbledore watched it fly away and when its silver glow faded he turned to Snape, his eyes filled with tears. “After all this time?” “Always,” Snape replied.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Crafting intrigue: how bibisco empowers Red Herring narratives

Incorporating the Red Herring narrative technique into your writing can add intrigue and suspense to your story. With bibisco novel writing software, you can effectively implement Red Herrings by strategically planning and developing plot twists and misdirections.

bibisco’s organization features enable you to track clues, character motivations, and plot developments. They allow you to carefully weave Red Herrings into your narrative without losing sight of the main storyline.

bibisco's organization features - chapter's detail- the red herring narrative technique.
bibisco’s organization features – chapter’s detail

Additionally, bibisco’s character development tools assist in creating believable and multifaceted characters whose actions and motives can serve as effective Red Herrings.

By utilizing bibisco’s functionalities, writers can employ the Red Herring technique to keep readers engaged and guessing until the final reveal.


The Red Herring narrative technique is a powerful tool that captivates readers and keeps them engaged from start to finish. By diverting attention and introducing false leads, writers can create suspense, intrigue, and unforgettable plot twists.

Red Herrings are not mere cheap tricks but complex devices that challenge readers to think critically and question their assumptions. When used effectively, they elevate the storytelling experience, making narratives more immersive, unpredictable, and thought-provoking.

Whether it’s a detective mystery, a psychological thriller, or any other genre, the Red Herring technique has the power to leave a lasting impression on readers, ensuring that the mystery unfolds in the most captivating and unexpected ways.

Social Share

Download bibisco!

Effortlessly organize your ideas with bibisco's innovative software for fiction writing – a seamless solution for streamlining your creative process.

Elevate your storytelling with bibisco!

Grab the best novel writing software for authors and dive into a world of creative writing.

Start your story today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Post

Are you looking for new ways to boost your creativity and refine your writing skills? This article will explore some fresh, innovative strategies that you might not have considered before. ...

25 Ideas for Writing a Book - bibisco's mind map tool ...

Have you always dreamt of seeing your name on the cover of a book? Writing a novel is a somewhat intimidating but tremendously rewarding feat, and it often appears that ...