21 April 2016

Reliable (?) Narrator

**My theme for this year's A to Z Challenge is THE REVISION PROJECT. Topics I come across while I write the third draft of my novel, Uneven Lines.**

I sighed, trying to hide my relief. I mean, I wasn’t jealous. No way. It was just—he was mine, you know? 

When you have a first person narrator, the reader isn't always going to know if he/she is telling the truth. Sometimes you have an unreliable narrator. They may tell an interesting story, but it may be skewed by their viewpoints or just what they're willing to share with the reader.

I don't think Jordan is necessarily an unreliable narrator. He does tell it like it is, at least when it comes to what is happening in the story. He even shares certain things with the reader before he shares them with any character in the story. Where I think that reliability starts to become shaky is when he has to tell the reader what he's feeling. He's really not all that emotional of a person, and when he has to open up to someone, whether it's another character or just the reader, he may not be entirely truthful.

There's a particular moment where he describes what he is feeling physically, mentioning his eyes stinging and blinking frantically, but not once does he acknowledge what that actually means--that he was trying not to cry. Because he would never want to admit that to anyone.

So he doesn't necessarily lie to the reader, but does he lie to himself? Probably. He's all about being in control of every single situation, so if he feels like he doesn't have control, he's probably not going to tell you. He wants everyone to believe that nothing can get to him and that includes the reader. That's one of the reasons I think he can be very vulnerable at times, but you have to look really hard to find it under the surface.

So if the narrator doesn't share everything with the reader, is he unreliable? And does that work? I think if he was constantly changing his story or telling outright lies to the reader it may get confusing. But when it seems like a certain pattern, like only telling certain things, it may actually show us more about his character. You may learn as much from what he doesn't tell you than from what he does.

Have you ever used an unreliable narrator? Do you think a first person narrator should always be honest with the reader?


  1. I have one project with a first person narrator who could be considered unreliable. Writing for her is an interesting experience.

    I think a first person narrator doesn't necessarily always have to be honest. It really all depends on who that narrator is.

  2. I have. The trick to make it work is to show the situation they are dealing with changing so we can see how their reactions change, so we come to understand what they are being unreliable about and know the truth for ourselves.

  3. I am writing one at the moment. And I have written one previously too. In the previous case, it's ambiguous depending on how the reader translates the story. No, I never actually give the reader a definite beginning, middle and end... where's the fun in that?! :-)

  4. I did write a short story with an unreliable narrator who sincerely believed she witnessed the assignation of The President of the United States. The reader has to decide if she is truly the victim of a vast conspiracy or just crazy.

  5. That lying to himself is a perfect characterization, isn't it?

  6. I don't think a first person narrator needs to be completely honest. No one in real life is completely honest, so why should we expect the narrator to be? Besides, his actions more than his words reveal his true self.

    G. R. McNeese from
    Project Blacklight

  7. My current story has a first person narrator who is lying to herself.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  8. I don't think I've ever written a story with an unreliable narrator. My head just doesn't work that way I guess.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  9. It's fun how the telling of a story changes depending on which of our characters we're seeing it through.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  10. I guess I always thought any work written in first person was, to some extent, unreliable because they can only tell their version of the story. We all skew truth a little, I think.

  11. I think the first person POV should NEVER be completely honest. What I mean is, the narrator should always be unreliable to a point. We all see things from our own perspective, and in one way or another we are always in the right... even when we make a mistake, we had a "good" reason for it happening.
    JEN Garrett

  12. I haven't tried an unreliable narrator yet. I might confuse myself. lol

  13. I don't think someone who doesn't reveal everything to the reader is an unreliable narrator. I think he just has to be wrong about the facts, something that the reader can eventually figure out.

  14. I find the psychology of writing so interesting. The deep thought you put into what is unreliable and what is reliable and makes them tick and do that can be so much fun. I don't think I have written an unreliable narrator yet, but it sounds like an interesting fun thing to do. It certainly should make your character DEEP thinking about all that.
    Juneta @ Writer's Gambit