Rest in peace, Mimi 1996-2014, who we lost on Sunday, June 29. Rest in peace, In Debt 1998-2014, who we lost on Thursday, July 3. Also see “An Ode to Mimi and Debtnums” by John Duncan.
Guys! I’ve got a bunch of new articles up at the 2Shopper blog; please check them out and comment!
So far in June
Friday the 13th and 4 Unique Gifts for Father’s Day and Organize WHAT? and Want free books? and Bookish: 5 Must Haves for Book Lovers and Five articles that made me more interested in the world
April showers bring May flowers: at home and April showers bring May flowers: at work and Sally Ride Day and National Salad Month and National Photograph Month and National Waiters and Waitresses Day
I’m in the process of editing pieces for an anthology that I’m putting together with a group of other writers and editors in the Los Angeles area, and one of my accepted submissions has an author who is struggling with unreliable narrator, which is a requirement for this anthology. (More on the anthology itself in a future post, I promise.)
I am having a lot of difficulty making the narrator more unreliable. Do you have any suggestions? I am really struggling with this, it is my first time going through this process.
I wrote him a note and then thought it could be useful to share my answer here, too.
Honestly, I have had a lot of trouble writing unreliable narrators, too, so don’t be discouraged. The easiest way to make a narrator unreliable is do one of three things:
1. make him/her too young to really understand what’s going on (Huckleberry Finn and, in the case of mental youngness, Flowers for Algernon)
2. have him/her purposefully lie or not tell whole truth (The Usual Suspects and, because it had multiple conflicting narrations, Rashomon), but make it apparent to the reader that your narrator is lying
3. give the narrator a physical problem that affects his/her memory or brain (Memento and Fight Club)
A word of caution on the last one, though: having an insane and/or mentally ill narrator (or character, for that matter) does not automatically make him/her unreliable. In real life, mentally ill people tend to tell the truth more often because they know they’re unlikely to be believed anyway, and that in itself is enough of a hurdle.
Even though I dislike “it was all a dream” narratives, they’re not implicitly unreliable, either, because the narrator is telling you the story in good faith. S/he would be unreliable, however, if s/he knew it was a dream and presented it as fact anyway. The point is that, usually, in the context of the dream itself, the narration is true. Likewise, high fantasy stories (The Lord of the Rings and the King Arthur legends) are not usually unreliable because the narrators tell the truth in the context of the story. That is to say, the stories are internally consistent.
The way to make a narrator unreliable is to make what surrounds them (what’s actually happening) and what they’re saying surrounds them (what they’re saying is happening) internally inconsistent.
I hope this helps. If you need more specific suggestions, let me know.
A lot of writers have trouble with unreliable narrators (and unreliable characters more generally speaking), so I hope this helps some of you who want to tackle the unknown in your writing.
01. get Fridays off or get Mondays off? Mondays
02. find true love or 10 million dollars? 10 million dollars, easily
03. lose half your hair or lose half your hearing? I already have poor hearing, so
04. be poor and work at a job you love or be rich and work at a job you hate? it’s a toss up
05. go without the internet or a car for a month? a car. definitely a car
06. have to sit all day or stand all day? depends on whether I have decent shoes on or not
07. dump someone else or be the person getting dumped? dump someone else
08. drink a cup of spoiled milk or pee your pants in public? really? really?
09. have your flight delayed by 8 hours or lose your luggage? have my flight delayed
10. be in your pajamas all day or in a suit all day? pajamas, hands down
11. have a missing finger or have an extra toe? hmm… missing finger
12. never use the internet again or never watch TV again? never watch TV again
13. be invisible or have super speed? uh, super speed, I guess?
14. have an extra hour every day or have $40 given to you free and clear every day? I’d probably be okay with either one
15. have a photographic memory or be able to forget anything you wanted? photographic memory
16. able to lie without being caught or always be able to tell when someone is lying? BOTH
17. be a clown that distracts the bull or the bull rider on the bull? bull rider on the bull
18. be known as a drug dealer or be known as a liar? hahahahahaha
19. eat only KFC for a month or eat only Taco Bell for a year? ugh. I guess… Taco Bell? I don’t know
20. be your favorite video game character or be your favorite movie character? movie character
21. run 26 miles or swim 5 miles? swim 5 miles
22. hold your pee all day or go pee every 5 minutes? ugh; neither
23. be a famous rapper or be a notorious mobster? notorious mobster
24. be eaten by a zombie or be burnt at the stake? burnt at the stake
25. never drink soda again or never eat pizza again? soda… I guess
26. see everything blurry or see everything in black and white? black and white
27. be stuck in a room with dead bodies or eat 5 spiders? dead bodies. definitely dead bodies
28. be deaf and have no legs or be blind with no arms? deaf with no legs
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (viewed in theaters 16 April 2014)
A pretty decent superhero film, definitely better than the first one, though I understand the need for the latter for the former to make sense. There weren’t really any surprises in this film, though Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) managed to get through a third entire full length feature film without unnecessarily becoming some other character’s love interest. (Ugh; can you imagine? Uuuuugh.) I like that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is portrayed as chaotic good, more or less. Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson’s) car chase scene seemed unnecessary, but it was nonetheless fun. (Though I admit it would’ve been less fun if he hadn’t survived it.) The Winter Soldier doesn’t break out of the superhero/villain mold, but it doesn’t try to, and that’s okay.
Mulan (viewed 06 April 2014 at home)
Mom’s choice for family night after she discovered that Dad had never seen it. (The rest of us were also properly offended, of course.) Good movie, though I had forgotten how violent and creepy the Huns actually were. Watching the film makes me want to learn more about the legend of the woman who inspired it, though I’d prefer reading a book for children at first since my knowledge of Chinese history is at a very primary school level at this point. Watched the deleted scenes for the first time and realized that some things are deleted for a reason. Also, I was perturbed that the main directors and artists, etc., were all white men. It irritates me that they took a Chinese legend and basically appropriated it into Western culture. Ugh.
The Littlest Rebel (watched 30 March 2014 at home)
Grandma’s family night choice, “in memory of Shirley Temple” (who died in February). Now, I realize that it was produced in 1935, but honestly, the racism apparent in this film is atrocious. The use of black face, the slaves afraid of being freed by the Union, and the slaves as part of the family is just… too romantic for me to swallow. The only half-decent thing about it was that it made me think about my education in regards to the Civil War, which was strongly biased toward the Union and against the Confederacy… and for good reason, you’d think. In this film, the Confederates are the good guys (or, at least, the title character’s father, who is a Confederate officer, is a good guy) and the Union soldiers don’t do anything for their cause by ransacking and then burning down the family home. Oh, and also, the mother dies, and nobody ever ever looks that good on their deathbed.
Gravity in 3D: see One Paragraph 18
Though I’d have liked to watch this through again, I already saw Gravity in October, and since it started at 10:15 PM after having watched three movies that day already and I had work the next morning at 7 AM, I decided to cut and run while I was still feeling not terrible.
American Hustle (viewed 01 March 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Best disclaimer a movie’s ever had: “Some of this actually happened.” Seriously. The costumes were amazing; the story was ridiculous. Don’t know how I feel about Christian Bale with a combover, but he certainly acted the skeevy-car-salesman type well. Reminded me of a lower class version of the guy Leonardo DiCaprio played in The Wolf of Wall Street. By this point, I had also noticed that seven of the nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture were based on true stories, and the remaining two (Nebraska and Gravity) were films that could’ve easily been based on true stories; they were all basically realistic/historical fiction.
Her (viewed 01 March 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
You know what? This film was actually pretty good. Weird, but good. I really like the actress Scarlett Johansson (who voiced the intelligent AI Samantha), though I didn’t realize she was in the film until afterward. I seriously identified with the relationship talk that Theodore and Samantha had about loving someone and loving other people at the same time. That was difficult for him to take and it showed, but I truly, deeply believe what Samantha said is true: “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.” See also the discussion at Feministing.
Captain Phillips: see One Paragraph 17
I skipped this film because I didn’t want to get seasick all over again, especially when it was only the second of five films on the second day of AMC’s Best Picture Showcase this year. Ugh.
Woman hit by car while crossing the street with friends, pronounced dead at the scene
The night I died, I laughed
so hard I couldn’t breathe
Some things are a split second
and some are a second longer, but
everything speeds up when good things
happen and slows down when bad things happen
so that night I was frozen in time:
Prompt: Write a poem where something (big or small, abstract or concrete) comes to an end. NaPoWriMo