1. JaM1221
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    JaM1221 Member

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    Unreliable Narrator

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JaM1221, Nov 18, 2009.

    My novel is "written" by my main character as a way to prove his innocence (to crimes he did commit) and purposely twist the story in his favor. I have done a little research on unreliable narrators and from my understanding it can be written in first-person or third-person limited narrator. Throughout the story, I wanted to slip in clues to his unreliability. But why in the world would my main character slip clues of his unjust deeds into a story which is suppose to assert his innocence? Would this story work in first-person or do I need to write in third-person limited? Could I start in first-person and then switch to third for the majority of the story with brief interruptions of first-person?
    Any help would be appreciated.
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You could build in accidental inconsistencies in his story, much like someone would actually do if they were giving a statement trying to prove their innocence. It's hard to make a lie watertight, especially a novel-length lie. I would keep it in first person, that makes the most sense for what you are trying to write (why would he be writing about himself in third person?), and I certainly wouldn't alternate between the two.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's not really about the character slipping clues. It's more about how well the readers can pick up that he's being unreliable. This can be accomplished through his interactions with other characters. If several other characters are hostile towards him, then that gives readers a clue that the there might be something wrong with the narrator. There are also other indications of unreliability: small children, mentally handicapped people, people under the use of drugs, etc. are all capable of being unreliable narrators.

    I think of an unreliable character as sort of like a criminal. He is not going to confess his crimes, but other people can pick up hints and clues and eventually conclude that he is guilty. Similarly, the reader can pick up clues about the narrator and conclude that he is unreliable. Of course, dropping these hints depends on your skill as a writer.

    Also, for the POV, writing the whole thing in first person is possible. There is no need to switch between the two since the unreliability of the narrator can be shown exclusively through first person.
     
  4. JaM1221
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    JaM1221 Member

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    Thank you so much. That's a really good idea. And thank you for your opinion on the narrator. Yes, first person does make the most sense. (haha, what I meant by switching to third person was having an introduction as if the main character is writing his story and then switch to third-person as if someone was looking down on the character and retelling his story [if this made any sense]) Thanks again.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you don't have a compelling reason to write in first person. I recommend third. And since you are concealing truth, what is the advantage of letting the reader all the way into the character's head?

    With third person, you can limit the excursions into the character's thoughts without being obvious about it.
     
  6. JaM1221
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    JaM1221 Member

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    Thank you too. Another question: If the character is writing his story, would writing about the hostile reactions of other characters have to be inconsistencies in his story as well?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nope. He can certainly perceive that others don't implicitly trust him, and iwll probably behave defensively.

    In fact, that defensive behavior can be used to raise the reader's suspicions.
     
  8. JaM1221
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    JaM1221 Member

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    Thank you. Come to think of it, my story could work well in third-person.
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If you haven't already, you should probably read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The premise is similar to yours, and there is a lot in there to think about in terms of the unreliability of the narrator.

    EDIT: You did say that the novel was written by the main character, yes? In which case, third person makes no sense at all. Also, if you wrote in third person, it wouldn't be an unreliable narrator, just an unreliable character, and it would no doubt me much less subtle for that. It would be immediately obvious that he was unreliable, whereas if you wrote it as an account in first person, it would be much more difficult to discern whether or not what we are being told is true or not, which seemed like what you were suggesting in your original post...
     
  10. JaM1221
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    No, I haven't read it. Thank you for the suggestion. I'll be sure to take a look at it.
     
  11. Operaghost
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    It doesn’t have to be conscious clues, even the best of liars sometimes make mistakes, so maybe a slight inconsistency here or there could help, (this could work especially in third person if the character conflicts with something that maybe the questioners don’t know about but the audience do, giving the wrong name or date for instance, and this doesn’t have to be obvious, I know it’s a film but the best example like this would be in The Usual Suspects and how things around him are used to convey the tale of keysor Soyze (sorry for those who haven’t watched it but you should have known the twist at least by now) Similarly check out Fight Club (which is a novel as well as the film) for another example of a unreliable narrator (in this case subconsciously ) to see how this can work.
     

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