An unreliable narrator is a protagonist who can’t be trusted to tell the events accurately. By having this narrator be insane, evil, delusional ect. hooks the reader to find their own truth.
Writing an unreliable narrator allows the author to play with withholding the truth and when to reveal it, keeping the reader on their toes.
If you would like to write your next story with an unreliable narrator in mind follow these tips:
Withhold information. Readers are used to having more information than the characters. So play with the idea of withholding information, and what information you would withhold.
Hint at the qualities early on. More often than not your narrator will be unreliable from the start. Unless it is a straight they suddenly developed. However, in order to make a fluent story your narrator should be unreliable from the start.
Characters interpretation. You don’t need a ton of other characters’ perspectives. However, you should use them to reflect the inconsistencies in your story.
Even if you don’t want your narrator to be completely unreliable you can experiment with vulnerability. Even Harry Potter a gives the reader misinformation in Prisoner of Azkaban when he thinks the escaped prisoner who killed his parents is actually a lie. A slight flaw can make the narrator seem more believable.
We’ve talked about multiple POVs and the importance of treating them with love; each character is a distinct person who has a unique personality worth sharing with the world. We’ve talked about having too many characters and working on who to cut from the cast; we know so many authors who have created beautiful narratives with more than two characters as their MCs…but sometimes it’s not done well.
Taking things in a different direction but still referring to multiple POVs, characters, and consistency…let’s talk about your choice in writing style (if you’re taking the route we are going to be starting a conversation for.)
Being a head hopper is fun! As the writer, you get to explore different minds and see your plot unfold in your tale through the lens of diverse brains. Sometimes, you explore a single mind for one chapter, then switch to a new persona in the next. You can even write from a completely unbiased point of view…
Okay, you already know what we’re seguing into: your narrator.
It’s crucial to keep your narrating style consistent. Flopping between third omniscient to subjective/limited to objective to first person…all because it makes sense in the moment of the scene? No. Our brains hurt simply thinking about that. It’s a heavy example but it’s worth mentioning the most extreme of cases to get your editing eye trained on your work and how you’re choosing to narrate.
The question then becomes: Am I doing this?
If you are, you should further ask yourself which POV/narrator comes off the strongest of all. Whichever one it is: choose it. Stick with it. Rewrites are a pain but the goal, if this pertains to you, is to get the work recognized as worth for publication, so it’s worth the extra time…and love!
We believe in you!
I’m a little late to the game, but the finalists for the Audie Awards were announced recently. If you don’t already know, the Audies are like t he Oscars for audiobooks. They have been awarded annually by The Audio Publisher’s Association since 1996. There are a bunch of categories in which authors and narrators are applauded and honored for their outstanding work. The actual award ceremony is always held during Book Expo of America in May, which this year is in NYC.
You can see all their categories and their finalists here, but I have highlighted a few of my favorite categories below:
The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
The Hike by Drew Hagary
League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
Crimson Shore by Preston & Child
The Crossing by Michael Connelly
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens
IQ by Joe Ide
Dirty by Kylie Scott
Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt
First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Glitterland by Alexis Hall
The Obsession by Nora Roberts
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuval
Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
Write on, listen on!