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The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, 3rd Edition by Writer's Digest Writer's Digest Editors

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Chapter Forty-Two

Writing Investigation

Clues, Red Herrings, and Misdirection

Hallie Ephron

Investigation is the meat and potatoes of a mystery novel. The sleuth talks to people, does research, snoops around, and makes observations. Facts emerge. Maybe an eyewitness gives an account of what he saw. A wife has unexplained bruises on her face. The brother of a victim avoids eye contact with his questioner. A will leaves a millionaire’s estate to an obscure charity. A bloody knife is found in a laundry bin. A love letter is discovered tucked into last week’s newspaper.

Some of this evidence will turn out to be clues that eventually identify the villain. Others are red herrings—evidence that misdirects the reader and leads to false conclusions. On ...

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