17.4: The Gun on the Mantel is Actually a Fish

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela RiveraSandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd

In the previous episode we discussed how to ensure that your surprise feels inevitable. In this episode we’re covering how to make inevitability feel surprising. The title is a nod to the concept of the “red herring,” which is arguably the most useful tool for setting up a good surprise.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Do the reverse of last week’s homework: find a thing that is important later and find a scene early where you can “put it on the mantle.”

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

5 thoughts on “17.4: The Gun on the Mantel is Actually a Fish”

  1. Any writer interested in the mechanics of the Murder Mystery genre needs to be intimately familiar with the work by Dorothy L. Sayers. Time after time she took a trope that was already well established and wrote a thoroughly entertaining mystery that exploited that particular trope to its fullest.

    Apropos this episode she wrote a book literally called “Five Red Herrings”. Just when you think it must be X, she shuffles the deck and shows you why that can’t be right. It must be Y instead. Then she does it again with Z, and again with still another character.

    “Five Red Herrings” was first published in 1931. Sayers was both British and wildly popular, so Ms. Christie would have been very familiar with “Five Red Herrings” when she later wrote “And Then There Were None”. That book didn’t get published until 1939.

    Cringe alert: The original title of the Christie book was “Ten Little Niggers”.

  2. I just want to say, this has already been the best season you have had in several years. You were already on season 14 when I discovered the podcast via one of Brandon’s online lectures, so I went back to the beginning and binge listened several episodes a day until I caught up to you and I have not missed an episode since. However, for the past 2 to 3 seasons I have been thinking you all were just going back to old topics and rehashing the same material again. It was great to have different voices and personalities sharing the material, but for the most part I was not learning anything. I am happy to say, we are only a few weeks into this new season and I have already learned several valuable lessons. Thank you very much for getting back to what o feel was the original spirit of Writing Excuses, and I hope for many more years of highly enlightening episodes to come.

  3. Once again, the fearless foursome, Howard, Kaela, Sandra, and Megan, take that gun off the mantle and fire it! Red herrings aren’t just a fish market surprise. The Sixth Sense, I see dead people. Harry Potter, Snapes and Quirrell. Include fish in your foreshadowing. Be careful how you put your pants on. Beware the writers’ phone booth! Fireworks in a small theater, and the sheriff firing a shotgun into a bucket… Read all about it in the transcript now available in the archives!

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