The unintended red herring

File under, “Lessons learned while writ­ing.” I have a ten­den­cy to throw details into a sto­ry that explain a prob­lem in my head, but are not meant to go fur­ther than that. But a read­er, who is not in my head, reads that detail as cru­cial, and chas­es it down the rab­bit hole until they real­ize it is just a dead end. Frus­trat­ing. And no tiny doors to climb through at the bot­tom.

For exam­ple. A new char­ac­ter shows up out of the blue, and announces that he is here to inves­ti­gate an old death that he believes is mur­der most foul. Mur­der? How unex­pect­ed! How juicy! Who died, and why? Who is this mur­der inves­ti­ga­tor? Tell me more!

But the inves­ti­ga­tor is real­ly here for some oth­er rea­son. He made up the mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion as a cov­er. I move on with his real moti­va­tion, and ignore the mur­der, because, what mur­der? Bor­ing!

But the read­er is intrigued, then con­fused, then lost, then maybe dis­ap­point­ed and angry. And when they emerge from the oth­er end of the stages of grief, they have missed all the good stuff I was doing in the mean­time.

Must avoid the unin­tend­ed red her­ring.