Score story plot points with head fake

Many readers enjoy books in which they attempt to solve the story’s central problem before the main character does. To add to such readers’ pleasure, authors sometimes will create “diversions” when plotting the book.

These diversions are known as head fakes, as they’re plot actions that appear significant but really aren’t. The term is borrowed from sports when an athlete moves his or head one way to signal direction but then actually goes the other way. It was coined by CSFW’s David Smith. Head fakes often are used in mystery stories or whenever the reader is solving the story’s puzzle alongside the main character.

Any head fake in a story ought to fit into the plot, though. Usually it’s an avenue that the main character explores but later realizes or decides is a dead end. At least one clue should be dropped into the plot to suggest that avenue will go nowhere.

Limit the number of head fakes in your story. Using too many of them is like crying wolf. The reader will feel that you don’t really have a plot and frustrate with the story might quit reading it.