Irony and Deception as Literary Devices - Part 2

Part one looked at different types of irony writers can use – a very subtle way of duping or manipulating the reader.  Outright deception can also be used to good effect, which is very popular among crime, thriller and mystery writers. There are different types writers can use, but the main ones are misdirection, red herrings and outright lies.

Throughout a story, writers often create deliberate deception. They do so by manipulating reality to mislead their readers to add a different perspective or heighten tension of conflict and to create drama. False clues help to achieve this.

Misdirection is an effective way to direct the reader from what is really happening. This effect is created by a false reality. For instance, writers can deliberately lead the reader into a wrong assumption whereby a character jumps to the wrong conclusion and accuses another character of perpetrating a terrible crime. The reader will most likely also think the same thing, until later in the story when its revealed that the accused character was innocent all along. This kind of misdirection can be achieved by planting false clues, as opposed to real clues. It’s a subtle way of manipulating the reader.

Another common source of deception is the red herring, which is created by the writer in order to divert the reader’s focus from the truth. Red herrings are a fallacy. They deliberately wrong foot the reader and force them into making false assumptions about the story or the characters in order to keep them guessing. They are effective by placing false clues or by creating ambiguity to deceive the reader.

The red herring acts in opposition to the clues dotted throughout the narrative. Just when the reader thinks they have it all the clues figured out, the writer reveals the red herring to stump them. The idea is to stop the reader becoming too comfortable with the story. Step by step, certain clues are laid throughout the narrative, however, not all of them lead to a truth. Some are deceptive. Some may only be half-truths, while some can throw the reader completely off the scent.

They work well in crime novels and thrillers because writers exploit the reader’s need to follow the clues and find out who the perpetrator is, but the red herring – or false clues – tempt the reader into making the wrong conclusions. So, for instance, writers can make it seem like one of the characters is the villain because of his suspicious behaviour or actions, but in truth that isn’t the case. The fallacy of this creates the red herring.  Another example might be that all the clues from a crime seem to point towards one of the “obvious” characters, thus deflecting focus from the real villain.

The same is true when lies are presented as truth – whether this is shown in the narrative or through the characters and their actions. Characters are very good at lying, after all, but writers don’t always exploit this fact. Keep the reader guessing whether something is a lie or the truth. Don’t give them an easy ride. Use a character’s tone, body language and actions to veil the truth.

These types of deception don’t have to be confined to mystery, thriller or crime novels either – they can be used in any genre. Take every opportunity to deceive, misdirect and lie to the reader. The narrative is much more interesting for it.

Next week: How do you know when you’ve finished your story?



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