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