Whoa…I did not see that coming! Using misdirection is a great way to grab your readers’ interest and keep them turning the pages. Whether your characters are being conned, misleading each other, or deceiving the reader, your audience will be hooked—and totally surprised when the truth comes out! While you might think these sneaky tactics are only found in mysteries or thrillers, the experts at Writer’s Relief know they work well in any genre. A short story or novel that keeps your readers engaged and guessing will also keep them talking about your writing long after they’ve finished the final page. Here are tips on how to use misdirection and other “tricks” of the trade to hook your readers.
How To Use Deceit And Misdirection In Your Writing
Include a red herring. A red herring is a false clue that’s intentionally misleading. This can be a person, an object, or an occurrence that seems suspicious but turns out to be innocent—for example, an ominous new neighbor who’s always sneaking around after dark, but who is eventually revealed to be innocent of the nighttime kidnappings your hero is racing to solve. A well-placed red herring can misdirect readers and divert their attention from the true culprit.
Add a plot twist. A plot twist is an abrupt, unexpected development. It’s often found near the middle or end of your story, and forces the plot into a whole new direction: Suddenly, everything readers thought they knew has now changed! Make sure your plot twist feels like an organic part of your story and that it has dramatic consequences for your characters.
Use an unreliable narrator. Your narrator is the source through which readers see the story—so what happens when that trusted source is lying to them? An unreliable narrator adds an intriguing layer of deception to your story. Use character traits and specific details in the story to clue in your readers that things are not what they seem.
Have a secret keeper. Everyone loves—and is fascinated by!—a good secret. If you don’t want your narrator to keep secrets from the reader, you can have your character keep secrets from other characters. Or you might have your protagonist dramatically discover secrets that have been kept from them. The secrets don’t have to be nefarious—a character might lie to protect themselves from danger, to disguise themselves while seeking information, or to weave a web of deceit in order to save a loved one.
Plant sneaky clues. Your audience won’t appreciate a surprise that comes out of left field with no foreshadowing. It’s important to leave a trail of clues. For readers, half the fun of a good twist is going back and piecing together all the subtle clues they missed!
Reveal your characters’ motivations. Whether a character is innocent, guilty, or somewhere in between—readers should be aware of their motives. Clear and urgent motivations will make your novel’s twists and turns feel more realistic.
Avoid tropes and clichés. A cliché is a cliché because everyone knows it. If you want to keep your readers guessing, stay away from the obvious! Or, take a trope or cliché and turn it on its head to surprise your audience with something unexpected. Instead of “good things come to those who wait,” maybe good things come to a protagonist who acts impulsively. Or your character has a secret identity, but doesn’t realize it’s not a secret—everyone knows who the character really is.
If you use these tips to include misdirection and deception in your story, readers will stay glued to the pages. Here’s what you might not see coming…when it’s time to submit your writing for publication, it will take hours and hours (and hours!) of research to eliminate the wrong markets and find the right places to send your work. Fortunately, the research experts at Writer’s Relief can help boost your odds of getting an acceptance! Learn more about our services, and submit your work to our Review Board today!
In addition to helping clients navigate and submit their work via traditional publishing paths, we also provide affordable and expert self-publishing options. We understand writers and their publishing goals.
Question: What’s your favorite type of misdirection in a story?