There are three types of clues in mystery stories. Clues that lead to a solution, clues that eliminate a solution, and red herrings.
Clues that form a trail leading to the solution are satisfying because you feel you can work out the solution yourself. It’s important you don’t work it out too early though, or you will lose interest in the book. Often there is more than one possible solution right up to the last chapter.
Elimination clues are used to disprove options. These are pieces of information that change the direction of the investigation without revealing anything about the actual solution. The last clue is often an elimination clue.
Red herrings are facts that don’t relate to the mystery at all. They just keep you guessing!
It is good practice to avoid leading the reader every step of the way with a neat trail of clues. But it can be tricky to keep the reader’s interest when it isn’t clear that progress is being made.
You see, just because progress isn’t obvious, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any progress. Even when a character has gone down the wrong track, he is gaining information he will need later. He just doesn’t know it yet.
That’s when a red herring can come in handy. It looks like progress even though it is not getting you any closer to the truth.
The main character in my books is a teenager, navigating new places and cultures. Most of the time, he has to depend on others. But occasionally, he has to step up and be the responsible one, despite not always knowing what to do. And that is when great things happen.
Because even when we go down the wrong path in life, there may be something beautiful at the end of it.
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