A red herring is an idiom and a type of story element that is supposed to draw attention to a certain element, or from a certain element, as a means to mislead. I have searched for the origin of the term, red herring, but haven’t found any evidence of where the expression began. However, below I will explain in short strokes what a red herring means.
What is a Red Herring and How Can it be Used?
Like I mentioned above, a red herring is used to mislead or distract from an important issue. It can be intentionally used to plant a false clue to lead the reader to a false conclusion. However, it may be used intentionally as well as unintentionally.
The red herring is often used in mystery fiction as part of a rhetorical strategy, or inadvertently used during an argumentation. For example, in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Bishop Aringarosa is presented as if he’s the center of the church’s conspiracies during most of the novel. Later, thought, it is revealed that he has been innocently duped by the real antagonist of the story. The reader will think Bishop Aringarosa is suspicious while the real antagonist is lurking in the background. By doing this, a red herring can be used to, in the end, create a big surprise if it’s used in a disguised and not so obvious way.