1. kelbell*44
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    kelbell*44 New Member

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    Unreliable narrator

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by kelbell*44, Jun 1, 2011.

    Heyyy everyone! :D

    I'm writing a novel in the first person (which, ideally, I want to stick to because I think my main character should be telling his own story and expressing his own emotions). This, however, means that I find myself writing the thoughts of a character who is unreliable - my character's perception of things gradually becomes distorted as he becomes more out of touch with reality following an unfortunate incident.

    So here's my problem...

    I don't want to make it explicitly obvious that he is an unreliable narrator throughout the novel. Not until the end, at least. I'm not sure if the way to go is to drop in subtle hints here and there inducing some kind of doubt about his reliability (neither proving nor disproving it entirely, allowing the reader to wonder), or to have some kind of BIIIG revelation at the end (perhaps from another POV) exposing him.

    Any advice on how to approach this would be much appreciated! :)

    [P.S. Sorry if anything like this has already been asked/answered, but I couldn't seem to find anything relating specifically to my problem...]
     
  2. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    Changing the POV at the end might be strange if the story has been in one POV the whole time. I think dropping hints throughout the story would be the better way to go. :)
     
  3. kelbell*44
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    kelbell*44 New Member

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    @Gigi_GNR Yeah you're right I think that's best, nothing more frustrating than a weird ending! A bad-weird ending anyways, I'm all for good-weird... lol!

    Thanks so much for the advice! :)
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Read Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Great book, and excellent example of an unreliable narrator.
     
  5. kelbell*44
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    kelbell*44 New Member

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    @Steerpike Ooooh I'll have a look-see! Needed a new read anyway...lol :p Thank you :)
     
  6. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Just worry about representing the truth of the scenes and moments you're depicting. A narrator change to expose your MC through a huge revelation will seem extremely contrived. It will be clear, by the end, that your character isn't reliable as a narrator if and only if you've capture the truth of that character and they are in fact not reliable.

    I'll also point out, just for general information/perception, that you can still write in third person and effectively have a character expressing their own emotions and in a way telling their own story (the only limitation being a reminiscent narrator who looks back and literally tells a story about the past, which doesn't really work in third person).

    The key, despite the POV, is to write in an empathetic way. Make the reader not just understand the general situation of the story or character, but truly experience the story through the character, meaning what the character sees, thinks and feels is represented so the reader is limited to that and understands what the character is going through.

    Especially important with an unreliable narrator, because the second you pull back as a writer, especially if it's to try to explain things, that reader-character connection is sort of ruined, and in cases of unreliable narrators especially, it's hard to get that back.

    The important thing isn't tricking a reader into thinking things are 'true' or 'real' and then revealing at the end 'hah, it was all just a trick!' The important thing is getting the reader to think things are as true and real as the MC thinks they are, even if they aren't, and then, when the big reveal comes, it isn't a joke at the reader's expense, but a joke at the character's expense, and because of the empathy build we feel sad or joy or any number of things for that character in that moment.

    One great example of an unreliable sort of narrator and hiding this fact in plain sight, without ever pulling back to nudge the reader/view with an elbow about the situation, but just staying firmly in it, is the movie There Will Be Blood (be sure to check ratings and ask parents if appropriate before watching, please!).

    Also remember if you're writing a character who is 'crazy' or having mental/perception issues, you must be extra clear in your style and language. A lot of novice writers think it's 'easy' to write crazy, because you get to write crazy gibberish, but the opposite is true. The crazier your MC gets, the more sane, in control and clear you need to be as a writer, or it will end up making no sense at all.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I've seen this mistake. It turns the work into a mess. Another good reason to check out Lolita. Humbert Humbert isn't crazy, but he's certainly got some mental issues. But he's witty, charming in his way, intelligent, and convinced that he's somehow in the right, or at least as much victim as cause of many of the events in the book. A great example of self-deception.

    The difference between Lolita and what the OP wants to do is that you know from the start that Humbert Humbert is off in his own perception and relation of events. So the reader is on-guard as to his reliability from the start.
     
  8. kelbell*44
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    kelbell*44 New Member

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    @popsicledeath Thank you so much for the advice, it's exactly what I needed! I understand what you mean about the switch in POV sounding too contrived - that made be kind of wary of that option. I like the idea of hiding in plain sight - I will definitely check that film out in the name of research!

    And you both make an excellent point about the 'crazy' thing...just makes a mess. Definitely a road I didn't want to go down! I mean, I am writing a character with mental/perception issues but I don't want him to be overtly mad. I really want the reader to empathize with him and feel what he's going through, not just think of him as crazy with no logic behind his severely distorted perception of reality. Somehow I don't think that would come across as well in gibberish...
     
  9. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    A good example of an unreliable narrator that I have read is Glamorama by Bret Easton-Ellis, the techniques he uses are brilliant, as are the twists.

    I too am currently writing a first person novel with a character who becomes a bit crazy, and at the moment I'm favouring a style of writing that describes the other characters as if they were in an advertisment, to convey my narrator's delusions.
     
  10. kelbell*44
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    kelbell*44 New Member

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    @Declan I'll have to check that out too! A few good examples can't hurt :) Thanks!

    The style of your novel sounds great! I think nailing the way you want the main character to describe others is key to this kind of narration and gives the reader a real insight. I want to convey an intense sense of paranoia in my character's mind, so I'm working on him describing ordinary people around him as highly suspicious or monstrous to get across his delusional perception of those around him.

    Good luck with the novel :)
     
  11. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    That sounds good, It sounds like you know what you are doing there. I find too that it helps to alter the lay out as well- when I do my 'delusional' sequences I use '...' and framented sentences to emulate a stream of consciousness.

    Good luck with yours too :)
     
  12. kelbell*44
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    kelbell*44 New Member

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    I also find that the fragmented thing works really well, looks like we're on the right track! :)
     

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