Misleading Your Reader: What I Learned in my October Reading

Trying to mislead your reader is tricky, but it is essential when you write a mystery.  After all, you have to provide all of the clues while simultaneously distracting your reader by getting her to look the other way.  But you can do it.

WARNING  — THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS A PLOT SPOILER FOR RED GLOVE BY HOLLY BLACK.    Black is a master of deception.  At the beginning of Red Glove, a murder takes place.  The murderer is caught on video but all you call tell is that it is most likely a woman wearing a black coat and red gloves.  When the main character finds the coat in the hall closet of his family home, he assumes the killer was his mother.  As he works out other problems in the book, he finally uncovers the one and only woman who could have done it and would have known where to hide the coat.  As the reader, I got to the end of the book without feeling cheated.  Her set up and solution made perfect sense.

You can also lie to the reader if your main character simply cannot face the truth.  In Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas admits that he is an unreliable narrator.  He is going to lie to you.  The reader spends the book trying to spot the lie.  For me, it was pretty easy to spot because as an author I know how to make things really bad for a character.  That said, I wanted to be wrong because I didn’t like what it meant for Odd.  I could see why he wouldn’t want to face this truth and why he would lie.

Low Country Bribe is a mystery.  Again, I figured out who at least one of the bad guys was because I’m a writer.  “What would be the worst possible situation here?  What would be the most painful for the main character?  Oh, yeah.  That’s him over there.”  And, again, because it would be so bad for the character, I wanted to be wrong, but I would also see how the character didn’t immediately spot this particular bad guy.  Sure, she knew he was bad but this was bad in a whole new area he had never specialized in before.

When you set out to mislead your reader, set it up very carefully.  Deception works when we want to be deceived or when we are led to interpret the clues in the wrong way.

Here is my reading list for October.

  1. Bean, Jonathan.  Building Our House (Farrar Straus Giroux)
  2. Becker, Adam.  Journey  (Candlewick Press)
  3. Black, Holly.  Red Glove.  
  4. Bock, Chris.  Whispers in the Dark. (Pig River Press)
  5. Cabot, Meg.  Underworld.  
  6. Clark, C. Hope.  Lowcountry Bribe
  7. Damico, Gina.  Scorch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  8. Gulland, Sandra. Mistress of the Sun (Touchstone)
  9. Henkes, Kevin.  Penny and Her Marble (Greenwillow)
  10. Hynes, Margaret.  Picture This: Human Body (Kingfisher)
  11. Judge, Lida.  How Big Were Dinosaurs? (Roaring Brook Press)
  12. Koontz, Dean.  Odd Thomas.  
  13. McKissack, Patricia.  Ol’ Clip-Clip: A Ghost Story (Holiday House)
  14. Schwartz, David, Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices (Creston Books)
  15. Thurmeier, Heather.  Falling for You (Crimson Romance)
  16. Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers (:01 First Second)
  17. Yang, Gene Luen. Saints (:01 First Second)
  18. Yolen, Jane.  How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad (Blue Sky Press)
  19. Yolen, Jane.  Hush, LIttle Horse (Random House)