Friday, April 18, 2008

Red Herring

My research question for the week: What is a red herring?

A red herring is a misleading clue, usually used in mystery novels. The author is pointing the finger at an innocent party to keep the reader in the dark about who the real villain is until the end. After all, who wants to read an entire book if everything is explained by the middle of the story?

In the first Harry Potter book, the character of Snape is the red herring, pointing us away from the true villain, Professor Quirrell.

The Nancy Drew mystery series (some of my childhood favorites) are classic red herring stories.

I am working on a red herring for my Work In Progress, a middle grade mystery. A friend recommended an Agatha Christie mystery, “And Then There Were None” as a great example of the red herring device. Agatha Christie must be a good writer to emulate. There are two billion copies of her books in print and her play, “Mousetrap”, is the longest continuously running play in the world. It premiered on the London stage in 1952 and is still going strong.

Just for fun, a quote by the author:

“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”--Agatha Christie.
(I like this one because no house elves have shown up to clean my kitchen yet.)

Do you have any favorite books or movies that use the red herring device?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Critique Group Magic

Writing is a solitary activity. Or is it? I have heard the comment that actors are the only artists who must have others around them to work on their craft. Writers, musicians, and painters can work in the privacy of their own home, studio, personal space at their favorite coffee shop, etc.

I may create the first draft of a new manuscript alone, but fortunately, Help is on the Way. Writers may be solitary individuals by personality or by necessity, but there’s nothing most of us like better than talking to other writers. So we form critique groups. I am fortunate to participate in a critique group with three other writers. This has been an amazing experience. Besides the obvious fun of talking with other writers while drinking coffee, I get professional, helpful comments given in a kind manner.

This week I wrote some additional pages on a manuscript I am revising and asked for a quick read. The members of my critique group all replied the very same day with comments.

Some writers say that the key to writing is rewriting. A good critique group can only improve the rewriting. Hopefully, joining a critique group is one step in the right direction on the road to publication.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members of a group called the Inklings where they read works in progress to the group for critique.

Are there any other writers out there who want to brag on their critique group? Are there any other areas of life where you wish you had a critique group?