Surprise Your Readers With a Red Herring; They’ll Love It

“What your characters observe—or don’t—can be effective red herrings.” —Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest February 2016)

Image by PublicDomainImages

Definition of a red herring:

In storytelling, a red herring is an author’s intentional misdirection of the reader or a character. The author introduces a



issue, or

“smoke screen”





diverts, or

throws off


the reader or

a character


from the original issue and leads him


in the wrong direction or

to a false conclusion.

Red herrings aren’t for mysteries alone. Their subsequent surprises delight readers as does a gotcha, twist, or unexpected revelation.

Image by Kaz
Image by Kaz

A popular version for the origin of “red herring” is:

A hunting dog training technique. When the pungent odor of a smoked fish no longer diverts a dog from other scents, he’s ready for work.



How to incorporate red herrings in a story:

  1. Work to keep red herrings from being obvious. Thread them into the details of the story, such as into a character’s habits or his profession.
image by nrjfalcon
image by nrjfalcon

For example, we might believe a high school teacher talks to his students in social situations about the evils of drunk driving because he cares about their and others’ safety. Then we find out his real motive is to learn which teen is the hit-and-run driver that put his son in a wheelchair for life.

In this example, the red herring is a caring teacher. The reader is willing to believe a teacher is about education. And we’re on his side because he uses his free time to encourage teens to abstain from drinking and driving. Our preconceived notions about teachers facilitate creating the red herring of a caring teacher.

  1. A red herring can also be an item that causes a false conclusion. Here’s an example for a romance.
image by OpenClipartVectors
image by OpenClipartVectors

People see Sadie often carrying a small toolbox around town. She asks Deputy Wade to fix a leaking pipe at her home, a broken shelf at her shop, and the radiator in her Sunday school classroom. Her friends and the reader think Sadie uses tools to break things to woo bachelor Wade while he fixes her sabotages.

However, in the locked toolbox is a Colt 45. The gun is too large and heavy for Sadie’s purse. And children are too curious to see what’s inside a basket. When questioned she says she’s trying to repair things, a.k.a. her life.

She learns Lyle, who knew her when she worked in a saloon, is now out of prison and is coming to kill her reputation and her. Her testimony at his trial put him away for ten years. She’s called on Deputy Wade to fix things to have him close by for her safety, not for love. Of course, the reformed saloon gal and the deputy warm up to each other in his visits.

In this case, the toolbox and Sadie’s motives are red herrings.

Here are movies and TV shows that contain great red herrings:

LOST (motives)

Legally Blonde (her client’s motive)

The Usual Suspects (Roger’s story)

The Da Vinci Code (Bishop Aringarosa’s name translates “red herring.”)

Great Expectations (Pip’s benefactor)

Include red herrings to spice up your reader’s experience in all genres. Click to tweet.

What red herring have you intentionally used?

18 Speaking Tips to Rivet Your Audience

“Your goal should not be to ‘deliver a presentation.’ It should be to inspire your audience, to move them, and to encourage them to dream bigger.” —Amy Carmine Gallo

image by ArtsyBee
image by ArtsyBee

If I’m going to put my trembling body before an audience, I want to rivet the members with what I believe is important.

I read, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo. Here are 18 tips from what I learned from Gallo’s book and other research. I suggest you read Gallo’s book for more tips, many examples, and explanations behind the “secrets.”

18 Tips to Rivet Your Audience

  1. image by Alexas_Fotos
    image by Alexas_Fotos
    Speak from your heart on what you believe and are passionate about .
  2. Tell personal stories that take the audience on a journey and reach members’ hearts and minds.
  3. Include unexpectedness in your stories, something that veers from what listeners expect.



image by hornstromp
image by hornstromp

4. Include villains (challenges perhaps) in your stories and heroes who rise to the challenges and succeed.

5. Deliver talks in a genuine, conversational manner.

6. Record your talk and watch for“ums” and “ahs,”distracting gestures or fidgeting, and lack of eye contact.



7. Use purposeful gestures at key moments. Gallo suggests we keep them within the borders of our:

  1. eyes, 
  2. outstretched fingertips, and 
  3. waist.

8. Employ these techniques to show emphasis:

  1. raise or lower the volume of your voice,
  2. change word delivery from normal pace (190 words per minute), and
  3. pause before or after a key word.

9.  Walk away from the podium occasionally.

10. Reveal something new or give a fresh outlook or solution on an old challenge to inform, educate, and entertain your audience.

11. Be able to write what you want your audience to know in 140 or less characters.

12. Supply a concrete and meaningful “showstopper” (a story, a video, a demonstration, a surprise guest, a prop, or a personal anecdote) to stress your most important point.

image by lizzyliz
image by lizzyliz

13. Employ humor and novelty without trying to be funny, e.g. relate anecdotes, analogies, quotes, videos, or photos that reveal humor in a situation.

14. Limit your talk to 18 minutes. If your talk must go over 18 minutes, build in stories, videos, or demonstrations every 10 minutes.

15. Keep content on slides under 40 words with one theme per slide.

16. Replace words and bullet points with pictures and reduce the number of slides.

17. Develop a “message map.” Gallo suggest we:

  1. Create a 140-character headline.
  2. List 3 key messages.
  3. Reinforce the messages with stories, statistics, and examples. (Enter a word or phrase to represent a story.)

18. Develop talks around the senses, especially vision.

Incorporate these 18 speaking tips to inspire your audience. Click to tweet.

What one thing has worked well in your public speaking?

Writing Spaces that Could Change How You Create & Write

“I needed a change of scenery in order to continue writing my third novel. A big move … from one side of the family room to the other.” —Amy Sue Nathan (Writers Digest July/August 2015)

image by geralt
image by geralt

We writers pen our works from such places as a corner in the family room, a coffee shop, a library, or an office. But might we write better if we employ separate spaces for different writing tasks. We may have spots that work well for writing and others better for brainstorming.

I use five spaces for my writing undertakings.

Preferring silence when I work, I’m fortunate to have an office in our home that I designed for writing.

  • It’s open and light, giving a sense of freedom. Windows run the length of one side and face the mountains.
  • It’s home to past and present authors. Bookcases frame two sides and hold favorite novels, writing craft books, biographies, and Bible study works.
  • It’s cozy and inviting. A gas fireplace keeps me warm in winter and a ceiling fan cools me in summer.
  • It’s inspiring. My creative mother’s paintings grace the walls and encourage me.
  • It’s functional. A desk, a table, and a reclining chair provide three workstations.

Is an office necessary? No. (I once enjoyed writing from my bed.) But you can locate or create spaces that arouse your senses and put you in a writing mood for various tasks.

Zoe’s 5 Best Writing Spaces

Office Desk
Office Desk
  1. Office desk. No worry about the distracting view I face. I usually work here before dawn. Logos is installed on my desktop Mac.

Here, I study the Bible, pray, and write Bible lessons I use for teaching and speaking.

This spiritual space focuses my writing on God’s Word.

Office Reclining Chair
Office Reclining Chair
  1. Office reclining chair. It’s in a corner away from the windows near the fireplace. The light from a single lampstand gives me a sense of being in a smaller, less formal space.

Here, I abandon my computers. I seek God on writing problems, peruse writing craft resources and well-written novels, and brainstorm. I jot the gems I receive in a notebook.

This relaxing space encourages my brain to learn and brainstorm.

Office Table
Office Table
  1. Office Table. It’s mid room, facing the view. It’s loaded for writing: printer, MacBook Air, craft reference books, and a folder of printed-off writing helps.

Here, I sit in a basic straight-backed chair and get down to business. My notebook of jotted tasks, ideas, and reminders accompanies me. I work on blogs, stories, marketing plans, and sales tax reports.

This business space keeps me on task. The view offers quick breaks.

  1. Car. Living in the mountains, I drive about 30 minutes on rural roads to appointments and shopping.

Here, I turn the radio off and use my half hour to work on story problems with God.

  1. Bed. Darkness, the soft tick of a clock, and John next to me calms my senses. God whispers a better phrase or word to use in a paragraph, a better plot point, or items I need to delete from a blog or story.

Here, I relax and allow my Co-author to slip ideas and corrections into my thoughts. 

For better writing, use various spaces for different writing tasks. Click to tweet.

How do you use assorted spaces in your writing experience?