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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Red Herrings as Scapegoated Characters in Mystery Genre

Good mystery writers know all about red herrings, clues that are designed to mislead reader and make them suspect the wrong whodunit characters. Of course, the placement of the red herrings is deliberate because you want to keep the reader surprised as to who the true culprit is as the story unfolds. 

In the world of counseling and psychology, families do this all the time. It’s called scapegoating. A common example is when a child gets pinned as the guilty party when in actuality, the dysfunction in the family stems from the mother or father’s relationship.

Families do this to draw attention away from the actual problem and onto someone else. “My absentee parenting and alcohol abuse is not the problem. Little Junior is. See how he constantly throw tantrums?”

Never mind that he throws tantrums as a way to cope when Dad’s drunk and abusive. At least when he’s having a tantrum, Dad doesn’t hit Mom because they both turn their focus onto him.

Writers scapegoat characters all the time, especially in mystery writing. We want our readers to focus attention elsewhere while we hide the truth from them. In counseling, this deflection is not good and actually interferes with the therapeutic process. In mystery writing, this distraction is a necessary evil pleasure that makes the mystery harder to solve. 

Click here to read the rest of my article at Christian Fiction Online Magazine.


Jeff King said...

Awesome… I actually understand the application of “red herrings” better now.
Thx, I really needed this

Kristen said...

Fun post! Thanks:)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

jeff - glad this was helpful. i was reading a mystery/thriller and the similarities between red herrings and scapegoated clients literally came to me like a lightening bolt.

kristen - welcome!

Anonymous said...

Great advice and timely for me too!!

andrea franco cook said...

Here from Jeff King's blog. Just wanted to say hi. Enjoyed your post, interesting take on scapegoating. Thanks for sharing.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

welcome andrea! i need to keep jeff on speed dial...i get a lot of people from his blog!

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