Help, There’s a Red Herring in My Outline!

Walking, Feet, Gravel, Path, Shoes, Walk, Legs, Man

Are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, AKA a “Pantser”?  Are you having trouble weaving plot twists and surprises into your stories?  I used to.  That is why I have become an outliner.

I used to write willy nilly with no guidance other than a vague idea of where I wanted to end up.  I figured if I just let the story flow out of me, it could take off in crazy tangents and there would be all kinds of adventure.  Not the case.

Now, I’m not saying that other people can’t write like that, but I personally cannot.  I have come to terms with the fact that I need to know where I am starting, roughly where I want to end, and start out heavily armed with all kinds of details and back-story for my characters.  It’s my path, I’ve dealt with it.

But that’s where I find my red herrings.

Since I know where I’m going and some of the side-story along the way, I can weave in those little red herrings just to confuse my readers.  Seriously, it is such a great feeling when one of your readers tells you they totally fell for your little bit of deception.

And if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of red herrings, it’s a false clue that distracts the reader or leads them down an incorrect path, you know, so you can have the element of surprise at the end.  Think of it as using the fish smell to conceal the real path from the bloodhound.  Make sense?

I tried to slip in a few of these little deceptions when I was a pantser.  It just didn’t work as well, and I ended up having to go back and do massive revisions.  Now when I utilize even a broad outline, I am able to insert those little distractions, leading the reader down a questionable path. But as a writer, isn’t that what it’s all about?  God bless those stinky little fish.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I’m a huge outline fan as well. It’s utterly necessary.


  2. I’ve evolved into a partial pantser, but I definitely need an outline first. I agree–you can’t fit in a lot of the structural fun stuff (i.e. red herrings) if you don’t plan first.


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