the red herring, the Twist and the reversal in the final

le hareng rouge, le Twist et le retournement final

The red herring

Twist / reversal final


As promised last week, here’s an article on a technical story that we have not yet seen…the red herring. No, I’m not crazy or a fan of fish, don’t worry ! The red herring is also called a twist, it is a technique that you already know, I assure you. When I say that you already know, and that is that you’ve already seen, “lived” in some movies, and you have found it surely breathtaking.

But attention, this technique is difficult to implement and to control. If you are novice, I recommend highly you engage in a scenario based on a red herring. But nothing prevents you to try it ;o)

A red herring, what is it ?

The red herring it is simply a scenario that uses false trails for that take place a reversal of the incredible resolution. That is to say, throughout the story, the author/ director has taken the audience on tracks that are totally fake and then he reveals a secret/ a fact/ an explanation/ revelation that was unknown until then, and that makes the viewer see the story as it comes to live up here, in an angle completely different.

The wrong tracks, this is what we call a red herring.


But how to construct a red herring ?

Step 1 :

I doubt that some of you are already in the process of imagining stories with plot twists, crazy, fake tracks etc…but be careful, it must not be forgotten that a good red herring/ is a good reversal that puts on the ass, the spectator, demand a good story.

Yes, I bowl with it. But it is important that your story is constructed like all the others. I mean, it takes a protagonist, a quest, a universe, of the secondary characters, in short, all the stages of the hero’s journey.

Why ? Because this way, you are sure that your audience will follow the plot of your story. He will be able to identify with the hero and follow the steps that you have planned. It will have the impression of understanding everything (or almost). If your story is basic, it will even try to anticipate what will happen. It is therefore necessary that the viewer has the impression of being ” conquered country “ and understand the history.

ATTENTION : to be “conquered country” does not mean that the basis of your story or that your character has to be boring. It is necessary to hook your viewer with a strong story and not just rely on the reversal in the final.

Let’s take an example : The planet of the apes Franklin J. Schnaffner (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_J._Schaffner) 1968. This is the story of a space ship party of the land in 1972, which after a journey of 18 months at the speed of light, crash-lands on an unknown planet, in 3978, populated by monkeys very advanced.

I am sure you have seen this movie at least once. Throughout the film, the viewer wonders how Charlton Heston is going to get out of there and, more importantly, what is this planet. The end stage (plan end) is absolutely amazing, because with this one (the head of the statue of liberty destroyed and buried in the sand), the hero and the viewer to understand that they are not crushed on an unknown planet, but on earth, devastated by nuclear bombs. If my memories are good, the last reply is ” No, they made it “.

The film then takes another direction, just with this reversal in the final.

Trailer 1 THE PLANET OF the APES 1968… by STEFGAMERS

Sow small pebbles to prepare for the red Herring.

Step 2 :

Once the frame is installed, you need to plant clues to prepare the viewer to the turnaround. Without these clues, the viewer will not believe all the flipping final. It is for this reason that the red Herring is a difficult technique to implement, because if your indices are too many lights, your reversal in the final will fall flat, and if you don’t, the viewer, don’t believe them.

It is therefore necessary that your indices are in relationship with the future reversal and at the same time ” invisible “ or ” plausible “ for your base of the story.

I’ll give you an example : the 6th sense by M. Night Shyamalan, 1999. At the time, I let myself through the story…like a blue…It is the simple story of a little boy who sees dead people, which is terrorizing. A shrink (Bruce Willis) follows the little boy to try to cure him, until one day he understands that the little boy is telling the truth.

If you haven’t seen the movie, DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING. The twist at the end (turning end) is incredible. Yet the director has left us clues throughout the story :

– When psy meets the boy for the first time in the company of his mother

– At the restaurant when Willis has dinner with his wife


All of these scenes are credible in the history, yet as a viewer, these scenes challenge us (especially the restaurant scene, for me). But we pass naturally to the continuation of this story. We extrapolate thinking that Bruce Willis has marital problems.


With all the strength of Shyamalan in this movie, it is the staging (and writing) of the reversal. Because throughout the film, we follow the point of view of the psy. The boy also said at one time ” the dead do not see them…they see what they want to see.”

When Willis realizes that he is in fact a ghost, we live at the same time as the revelation. The director serves, moreover, d’a technique that we have seen : the flashback. At this precise moment in the film and these scenes take on a whole new meaning ! Suddenly what we took for problems in marriage, between the wife of Willis and him, turned into mourning ! And that the quest of the hero is not at all the same, we pass to the other side of the mirror, we move from the side of the point of view of the little boy.

I remember taking a huge slap in the screenplay and film at the time of the exit.

For me, this is one of the most beautiful preparations of reversal in the final that I could see.

To finish, one of the ways that is also at your disposal to create a red herring, it is to use ellipses (the other technique that we have seen). Something that the viewer has not seen, may be an important clue for the preparation of the twist. To figure this ellipse of concealment, you will use the flashback…

I have lost huh ? Take the example of ” 6th sense “ to explain to you what is an ellipse of concealment. The encounter between Bruce Willis and the little boy is in the living room of the boy’s mother. He opens the door, enters the room and climbs up. Willis and the mother are there and watch it move up (or he said hello and there was a cut…I don’t remember) anyway, the important thing is that the sequence starts with the arrival of the boy. Therefore, it is possible that Willis and the mother come to discuss and that the entrance to the boy in the room stopped in their discussion. Thanks to the Flashback of the revelation, we will understand that in fact, it was an ellipse of concealment, saw that Willis is a ghost, he was unable to speak with the mother… (QED).

I sincerely believe that it is necessary to watch several movies using this system of red Herring or flipping end to see all the possibilities and all the strings that have already been used.

So that you can spend a weekend studious, while making you happy, here is a list of films or the red herrings and reversals end are (for me) a gold mine.

Usual suspect

Fight club

– The other (which plays to make on the exploitation of the mystery !)

– The game

– Shutter island

– Seven

– Dark city

– Saw

There are many others, but it is a small personal selection. I could also talk to you about psychosis, memento etc…

If you decide to use this technique, be careful not to lose the viewer in wanting to make it too complicated or hiding too many important elements of the story (in ellipses for example).

I hope that this article on : the red herring, you liked it. Please do not hesitate to ask me questions at the bottom of this article.

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