A blog I contribute to recently used deception for its October theme. What better topic for October? The month of trick…or treat.
Which will it be? A trick or a treat? Writers specialize in sleight of hand. Mystery writers in particular. We plant clues in plain sight. Playing fair is part of the canon of mystery-writing. We give the readers all the tools to solve the mystery, but we don’t paint them neon orange. Even if it is Halloween.
How do we do it? Sometimes better than others.
In a perfect book, all the clues are carefully laid out. Often beginning on page one. Gotta watch those writers, they’re a tricky bunch. But the clues are disguised as ordinary dialogue, or mixed into a list of items too commonplace to stand out. The clue has been dropped, a few pages later, the red herring usually follows. Red herrings are clues used to take the protagonist, and the reader on a chase to a dead end. So, if the complainant tells you it was a silent night on the moors (red herring), and you happen to be Sherlock Holmes, that’s a huge clue, eventually. In the meantime, the reader, Holmes, and Watson are led on a merry chase considering and discarding suspects until the red herring is revealed as a clue.
How do writers make that work? I have no idea how Conon Doyle did it, but I’d love to ask. If you Google him and look at his picture, you’ll note he has an amused glint in his eye. I’m betting he’s not talking.
How do I do it? Well, first let me warn you. I have never known who done it until the second draft. Sure, I’ve finished the books in the first draft, but the endings never satisfied. During the editing process, I discovered that my clues let not to x but to y. Stop the presses. Red herrings fool authors and readers. That’s a good thing. It tells me my clues are properly planted. So are my red herrings.
Back to the process. I start each book with the victim. I learn all I can about him—or her. In the process of dissecting a life cut short too soon, I uncover clues. I make a list of those clues. Why did that person need killing? Why did the villain think the victim needed killing? Then I decide where in the book those clues will have the most impact, and how to hide them. At the same time, I work up three (or more) alternate scenarios. Who else has motive, means, opportunity? Then I bullet point outline three (or more) different stories, each with a different ending.
Once all the background work is done, I write my book. The book is not outlined. I’m a pantser in that regard. Instead, I write from chapter to chapter letting the characters tell me the story arc. In the end, I have a beginning, middle, and end that work. But usually points me, and often the reader, to the wrong character. In the editing process, I follow the clues again and finally discover who really done it.
It’s all about the deception. The characters always control the story, and they do not play fair. Not with this writer!
Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.
Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.