Monday, November 3, 2014

Clues and Red Herrings - Guest Post by Carol Kilgore

I'm very excited to have the marvelous Carol Kilgore on my blog today. I love her books, and I'm doing a happy dance that she's going to talk about how she writes such brilliant mysteries. Take it away, Carol!

Thanks so much for hosting me!

When I asked Christine what she’d like for me to write, she gave me a short list of possibilities but indicated she would most like to see a post about how I write the mystery aspect of my novels, especially whether I plot every detail or if I go back and add clues and red herrings.
What I do is the process that works best with the way my brain functions. I’ve tried to be a total pantser, and I’ve tried to plot all the details. What happens is I get stuck, or something different happens from what I’ve planned.

So what I do is a mishmash. Before I ever begin to write, I learn as much as possible about the beginning, the major plot points, and the ending. I also find out as much as possible about my characters without actually putting them together and writing their story.

When I write, I use what I know and let their story develop around the framework. The deeper I get into the story, the more I learn about the characters, and the more they learn about each other.

The more I know about the characters and the story, the better I can mislead the reader.

So on each successive pass, I add more details. As an example, in SOLOMON’S COMPASS, one of the characters wears a bracelet. Never takes it off. It’s just about the only positive means to identify him. The bracelet was an extremely late addition.

When I leave an obvious clue, I try to bury it so it doesn’t stand out. Many of my clues are subtle--too subtle sometimes, according to my editor. But together we fix that. I hope! One of my favorite movies is “The Sixth Sense.” All the clues are there, but most viewers don’t put them together until near the end of the movie.

That’s my goal when I write--have the clues come together and make sense near the end of the book.


By the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot. Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak. No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak. The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.

As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of her dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.

Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for.

The kicker? They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.


Although Carol has deep Texas roots, she’s lived up and down the eastern seaboard and in other locations across the U.S. as a Coast Guard wife. She sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially one with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy. 

You can connect with Carol here:
Under the Tiki Hut blog:
Website with Monthly Contest:


  1. Enjoyed learning about Carol's plotting style. Mine is similar. Good luck with your new book.

  2. Adding layers is a smart way to write. And I may not write mystery, but I do need to know my characters well before I begin.

  3. I add detail on successive passes, too, but I typically (for a mystery) start with a diagram--all the people I'd like to be considered suspects with a realistic motive and the clues that will tell the sleuth, so even if it isn't an outline, it is sort of a chart of what needs to get in there.

  4. Mysteries definitely require a lot of planning and it sounds like Carol has it down! It's interesting how much authors like to hear about each other's processes.

  5. Love these posts and loved hearing Carol's technique. Mine is similar. I can't get to know my characters until I write write write! :) the book sounds wonderful!

  6. I loved hearing about Carol's writing process. My style is similar as I usually have the framework and then allow the color of the story develop as I go.
    I've always wanted to write a mystery novel. I give mystery writers a lot of credit because it takes a great amount of time and imagination to surprise their readers.

  7. Hi Christine! It's a pleasure to visit here today. Thanks again :)

    Natalie - Thanks for the good wishes.

    Alex - I hope your characters aren't as deceitful as some of mine :)

    Hart - My critique partner writes more straight mystery, like you. She does something similar.

    Stephanie - I agree about us wanting to know. I think we're always looking for a better, quicker, easier process, LOL.

    Beth Ellyn - Some of my characters play their cards so close to the vest that I sometimes don't really know much about them until the second or third pass. I seem to get the ones with trust issues :)

    Gina - Exactly. I have to have all the framework in place before playing with the story. I love not knowing all of it because I get surprised along the way, too.

  8. Interesting process - mystery seems so hard to plan out properly. Congrats on your book!

  9. I love reading mystery but I think it must be the most challenging genre fiction to write. I admire people like Carole who can do it right.

  10. I admire people who write mystery, too. I couldn't plan well enough for it.

  11. Great post, Carole!

    After I get an initial idea about a story, it's characters, and settings, I always start with the ending.

    Working backwards helps me.

  12. Love hearing your process, Carol. Mine is pretty much a mishmash of pantser and outliner, too. The more you know, the more you get into and things start falling into place. Thanks for sharing and congrats on your new release!

    Hi Christine!

  13. Our methods of developing plots and character development are similar. Mine are still developing well into the final revisions and edits.

  14. I admire mystery and suspense authors. It is really hard to bury those clues and provide truly misleading red herrings!

  15. My second book has elements of mystery and it was so much more work. I had a notebook with the clues I wanted to bury and the red herring ideas. Gave me a whole new respect for mystery writers!

  16. My apologies for just now getting back here. Husband's computer died last night, and he wanted me to go with him this morning to help find the one he needed. We did, but it was out of stock at the store we originally went to. So we had to go to another one. By the time we finished, it was lunch time, and we were hungry. But here I am. Finally!

  17. T. Drecker - All the fiction I've written has at least one mystery element, so it's something I've always done. I'm not sure I could write a story without it.

    Susan - I don't know how right I do it, but it's the only way I know.

    Diane - I'm not a very logical person. Instead of planning, I leap. I nearly always know the ending and who did it before I know much of anything else. Then I have to backtrack and figure out how I got there. It's not always easy.

    Jay - LOL! I don't usually start with the ending, but I usually know it very early on - usually well before I know the beginning.

    Gwen - It's good seeing here that I'm not the only one who writes this way. Thanks for the good wishes.

    Stephen - The only things I mess with after I send it to the editor are things she suggests. Usually quite a lot of things, LOL.

    Catherine - For me, red herrings are usually much easier than burying the clues. Not always, though.

    Elizabeth - It helps me to remember that all clues don't need to be plot related. Many can come from character and even from setting.

  18. Love Carol's work and am intrigued by her working methods. I suspect (but am open to argument) that sometimes her characters take her on unexpected detours and journeys. A life of their own - which to me is the sign of the very best of character development.

  19. I'm trying to add more plotting to my pantster nature :)

  20. EC - You'd be surprised by the number of character journeys I've been on. My characters always surprise me.

    Jemi - What helped me a lot when I began to consider the plot as only the framework of the novel. Like the facts. The fiction and the story are all woven in between the framework. And it's my hope that readers wonder where the framework ends and the story begins. Or even better, when they don't know one from the other - in a good way.

  21. I do love reading about other author's processes, especially when they are so different from mine. I'm a total panster. I start with a premise, a character, and a setting and go. I write mysteries and don't usually know who the murderer is until I'm about 3/4s of the way through, and the ending around the same time. I figure if I don't know until then, maybe the reader won't either :) My secret is I give every character a secret, although not all of them show up in the final manuscript. One of those character's secrets will be the motivation for the murder.
    I know Carol's system works for her (we're critique partners) and how good her books turn out to be. Bottom line, that's all that counts, isn't it?

  22. Hi Carol!

    All the best with the new book. I loved reading how you drop subtle hints and how you plot the stories.

  23. I like what you say about going deep into characters. Me, I like it when they come alive and start telling the story for me, since that makes my job easier.

    Solomon's Compass for me had just the right amount of clues, and in the end everything made perfect sense. Oh, and the lead lady (and Coast Guard officer) was great.

  24. Jan - For two Scorpios, we are so different. But it's fantastic to have you as a critique partner.

    New Release Books - Thank you!

    Helena - I like when the characters take the lead, too. Sometimes I can barely type fast enough to keep up. I'm glad you liked Solomon's Compass and Taylor Campbell!

  25. It's fantastic to have you here, Carol! And thanks so much for replying and taking care of things while I'm visiting with my mom this week. :)

  26. Have a great visit! We'll try not to leave too big a mess :)

  27. Great post, ladies. In my opinion, the very BEST mysteries (or books, in general) are the ones that catch me by surprise. I love it when a writer outsmarts me.

  28. Susan - I love when that happens, too!

  29. Carol, your system definitely works. It sounds like you've nailed the mystery writing process!

  30. Michelle - I try :)

    Christine - Thank you, again. I've had a great time here.


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